Addergoole


Chapter 104: Kailani
I looked at you and somehow I knew
On a day for singing,
My heart went winging
A picnic grove was our rendezvous

Even Kai could tell that Conrad was still unhappy Sunday, and made even more so by her hurried whispered conference with Vlad and ‘Lisha. The blonde girl had been surprisingly helpful, and what she’d asked in turn had been so benign that Kai had been a little suspicious: “I want to go out shopping sometime this month, just you and me, okay?”

She trusted Vlad, though, even if she wasn’t totally sure about his girlfriend, and he’d seemed okay with it; more than that, he’d seemed to think the plan overall was a good sign, and he was willing to help out.

Still, she was nervous as she approached Conrad. He was sitting at his desk, studying and, she was pretty sure, pretending not to sulk; she set a hand on his shoulder to get his attention , and he turned to look up at her.

“Hey there. What’s up?”

She coughed around the sudden lump in her throat. “Come take a walk with me?” She was careful to phrase it as a request.

“Sure,” he replied, closing up his books. “Anywhere in particular?”

So far, so good. “I hear there’s an orchard somewhere outside?” She couldn’t sound as casual about it as she wanted to; she was jittering too much.

“Oh, yeah.” He smiled as he stood, a good sign. “Yeah, it’s pretty nice.”

“I’d like to go there, then,” she asked, already feeling relieved. Maybe things weren’t as bad as she’d thought they were?

“Come on, then, I’ll show you the way.”

She couldn’t help but smile as they headed out into the halls. This was what she’d wanted all along: she wanted him to show her how things worked. Show her the way, indeed! When he stopped, though, there was nothing but a blank wall before them. “Can you see the door?”

She looked at him sidelong, then back at the wall, trying to figure out the puzzle. The bricks had no place where they lined up, rather than staggering; there was no place where the mortar was different; there were none of the classic signs of a hidden door. A little frustrated, she shook her head no.

“That’s alright, it takes some time. Just close your eyes, then, and hold onto my hand.”

She took his hand and closed her eyes. “What takes some time?” Was this place making her slow?

“Being able to see everything.” He was leading her forward, slowly but steadily. Shouldn’t they have hit that wall by now? She pulled nervously on his hand. He wouldn’t lead her into a wall, would he?

“What do you mean?”

“Easy, easy. This way, not too much farther. And I mean, some of the doors and such are hidden for awhile. Almost everyone can see them after a year, but some people see them a lot sooner than others.”

Explanations were good. She pressed her eyes shut tighter, and nodded. “What determines when you can see them?”

“I really don’t know. I haven’t seen anyone do a study of it or anything like that.”

Study was good, too. “I could.”

“You could, yeah. You’d have to ask all the Fifth Cohort to let you know when they start being able to see the doors.”

They had moved forward several feet by now, or what felt like forward, at least. “Can I open my eyes now?” she asked. Asking the Fifth Cohort one more question wouldn’t be all that hard, but she didn’t think Conrad wanted to talk about the project.

“Just a second... okay, here we are, yes.”

She opened her eyes to the bright, crisp autumn morning, just at the edge of a hill. A pretty stone-paved path wound lazily downwards towards the orchard, a tidily-manicured acre of fruit trees. She stretched with her free arm, feeling the breeze and the sunlight on her skin. “So nice.”

“I do like this part. It’s nice to get out for awhile, such as it is.”

“Such as it is?” She murmured an idu kaana while she waited for his answer, watching the air swirl about her and ruffle her skirt.

“You might see what I mean if you extend your spell farther, see what you can learn.”

She eyed his expression and the tilt of his tail, and stretched out her Working. There was a small hot springs in the center of the orchard, extending the growing season. In the other direction, another warm spot – maybe a small town? Jaya had mentioned something like that. Fields, trees… and then a wall.

She stretched out further in all directions, and felt… “A dome?”

“‘Outside’ is subjective. It’s better than being in there, though.”

“That’s very… strange. Interesting.” She shook her head and looked at Conrad, really looked at him. “You like it out here?”

“Yeah. I’d kind of forgotten how much; I haven’t been out much since school started.”

“You’ve been sort of busy.” Feeling a bit guilty about that, she started down the path to the orchard, still holding his hand.

He walked quietly beside her, and she was reminded of their first days together, how happy everything seemed. How much had changed, in these short weeks. How much she had changed, and there was no going back. There was no un-doing any of it. She squeezed Conrad’s hand more tightly. Had he changed, too? How was being Kept affecting him? “How are you doing?”

The question seemed to put him off-balance. “I like being out here? What do you mean?”

“I mean, in general, how are you?” Eloquent, Kai. Brilliant.

“Uh. Okay, I guess?”

Well, at least two of them were both being ineloquent. She let it drop as they reached the first trees of the orchard. Vlad had said he’d leave the basket between the second and third rows of trees…

There it was. So far, so good. She hurried forward eagerly, tugging Conrad along. And what if he thinks this is all hokey? Well, at least if would be an opinion, and not the cat-after-a-bath mopeyness of late.

“A picnic, eh? You’ve planned this, then. Not that that should surprise me,” he smiled.

She found herself blushing, flames in her cheeks like they hadn’t been since that first week. “I hope you don’t mind,” she stammered.

“Mind? Why... No, not at all. So who else was in on this?”

“Just Vlad and ‘Lisha.” She picked up the picnic basket and opened it, to find ‘Lisha had been as good as her word.

“Looks like a good spread, too. Awesome.”

She grinned widely, pleased to have finally managed to make him happy. “I thought we could sit here under the trees for lunch, just you and me?”

“Yeah.” He leaned down to kiss her cheek, and she could hear the contentment in his voice. “That’ll be nice.”

“Nice,” she echoed, smiling, and laid out the blanket and the picnic.

It was just that, for once, nice. After they’d devoured the surprisingly-nice spread ‘Lisha had packed for them, Kai leaned back in Conrad’s arms as he lounged against the trunk of a pear tree, enjoying the warmth and comfort he provided against the faint chill of the early-October air.

“If only it could always be this simple,” he whispered quietly.

“Yeah,” she agreed, resting her head on his shoulder. “I wish we could just stay out here forever.”

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