Chapter 185: Kailani
They hadn't had much of a chance to talk, Thursday night, and when they had, she and Conrad had lain in bed not saying anything, anyway. She wasn't sure where to start, and "I'm sorry" seemed so horribly inadequate.
She couldn't put off talking forever, though, so she slunk home after classes and sat on the bed, not quite looking at him.
It might be inadequate, but it was at least a starting point. "I'm sorry." He didn't say anything at first, so she kept taking. "I don't understand people. I thought I was starting to, but it turned out to be … just believing the lies they were giving me. And every time I try, every time I try to do something good, I end up getting you hurt. I'm sorry."
"Kaia…" Conrad's voice was choked. "Please… just shut up, okay?"
She snapped her mouth shut, staring at him. He's just… He'd… "I'm trying to apologize," she blurted out. Shutting up was not her strong suit.
"I know." He turned to look at her. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was limp. "It's just… you're lousy at apologizing. I'm sorry."
"I'm lousy at pretty much everything having to do with people." She had really thought the Thornes were her friends. It was probably the stupidest thing she'd ever done. "I don't know what anyone wants. I don't know what you want." She rubbed at her face. "I don't know why I'm so angry, and I don't know why I'm crying."
"Hey…" Conrad reached for her, taking her hands. She let him, not sure what else to do. "You're angry and crying because you were betrayed, Kaia. It's not unreasonable."
"It's not rational to wander around crying! I knew I was bad at dealing with people and I kept trying to pretend I wasn't! It's stupid!" She glared at him, but didn't pull away. His touch felt nice; it always did.. "It was stupid, and I don't make stupid mistakes… I didn't, until I came here. Since I came here, it's been nothing but stupid."
"Kaia, you've probably never been in a place where everyone is out to get you before, either."
"I don't know if I'd know." She reclaimed one of her hands to wipe at her eyes. "I mean… is everyone out to get me? Maybe Agatha really wants to be my best buddy, how would I know?"
"People who want to be your buddies don't do what she did." Conrad's voice was low and almost growly, a tone she'd rarely heard from him. His face didn't appear to have changed expression, though.
She took a breath, and another one. She wanted to scream, or cry, or something, but it would only upset Conrad, and it wouldn't solve anything at all. "Conrad, I don't know anything anymore. I don't know why anyone does anything. Even you."
"You can read my mind," he pointed out, and then, quickly, "or you can just ask me. I can't lie to you."
He'd been saying that for a long time. She nodded slowly. "Why… why?" she faltered. "I can trust you, right?" she asked, instead of everything else that was running through her head. Maybe there were things she shouldn't know.
"I would promise it if I could." His eyes were wide and looked honest.
"Just tell me the truth." She knew, the way she phrased it, that it was an order, but it was a redundant order. Besides, he'd stopped going so flat-tailed at orders some time ago.
Except this time. He held very, very still for a moment, only his eyes moving and those barely at all. "Kaia… I will not betray you. I won't back-stab you and I won't hurt you, not on purpose, at least. Even when you're fighting with my friends, I side with you, not because of the… probably not entirely because of the bond, but at least partially because I love you and I want to support you."
He took a breath, stopped, and then, frowning deeply, continued. "I'm not saying what I'm doing is entirely selfless. I wanted you for myself. I knew you wouldn't accept being Kept, that you'd never tolerate the collar, and I knew it didn't bother me that much."
"You engineered that?" She should have seen it coming, she supposed. It had been too surprising for him to have not wanted something. "Why?"
"I didn't engineer all of it. I let Taro try - sorry, but he saw you first." He paused for a moment, looking, she was pretty sure, suitably embarrassed. "But he's, well, Taro."
"He is," she agreed. She would, she decided, worry about let Taro try some other time.
Conrad kept talking. "I knew you wanted answers and, yes, I used that to get you to Keep me. I didn't - I didn't really guess how intense it was going to be." Again, he looked a bit shame-faced. "But I don't regret it, Kaia. I'm glad I'm with you. And I'll do everything I can to protect you - not that I've done so well so far," he muttered.
She thought about that for a moment. "I think…" she spoke slowly, wondering if there was a polite way to say it. "I think that I am much, much better off than if you hadn't been here, Conrad. And not just because once in a while you can talk me out of something foolish."
"Not often enough." His flush came hot on that mutter. "Ah, Kaia? Did you really mean for me to tell you everything, unvarnished, right now?"
"What?" Oh, the order. "No, no." She patted his shoulder to reassure him. "I believe you, Conrad. I can trust you."
"You can. I promise you that." He held her, sideways, in a firm hug, his head on her shoulder. "It'll be okay, Kaia. Even this mess with Sima will be okay."
You might be able to trust him, but does he trust you? She had a sinking feeling she knew the answer - he had no reason to trust her, not after the trouble she'd gotten them in - but was saved from finding out by a knock at the door.
"Kailani? Conrad?" Mabina. Kai cringed. The older girl had been right all along; how was she going to face her? "Can I come in, dears?"
She glanced at Conrad.
"We can't keep her standing outside." His whisper told her nothing about how he felt about it.
"We could," she countered.
"We shouldn't. She's our friend."
She's his friend, at least.
"Come in, 'Bina," she called. Next to her, Conrad straightened up and ran his hands through his hair.
Mabina came in, Cassidy leaning in the doorway. Atypically for the last few weeks, neither of them was holding a baby. Both of them were frowning.
Kai frowned back. Had they found out already?
"We have a problem." Mabina sounded much the same as ever, but next to Kai, Conrad became very still.
"What sort of problem?" Kai asked. What had she done now? Left something awry in the bathroom? Forgotten to wash her dinner dishes?
"We believe Agatha has tampered with the minds of Mea and Alisha."
"Oh." She means a problem you made for them. Another problem you made for them. Utterly unexpectedly, Kai found tears leaking from her eyes. "I…" a sob chocked her words off. Mortified, she turned to hide her face in Conrad's shoulder. Now Mabina was really going to let her have it, and the whole crew was going to hate her, and it was all because she couldn't figure out how to be as smart about people as she was about everything else.
Conrad patted her back. "Kaia, love," he murmured. Over her head, he explained to Mabina. "It's been a hard couple days. The Thorne Girls…"
"Tch, them, too? Well, we can deal with them."
We? "It would…" She swallowed another sob. "If I just stopped being your crew. Then all this mess I made…"
"Shush." Mabina was suddenly sitting next to Kai, her hand next to Conrad's on her back. "Honey, there isn't a person in the world that doesn't make mistakes, now is there? And we may be superhuman but we're still human at the center of it."
"But it was stupid!" she wailed. "And I'm never stupid, except about this, about people, and you warned me and it was still stupid." She peeked weakly at the older girl. "Why aren't you yelling at me?"
"Well, and what would that solve? And maybe…" Mabina hesitated for a moment, looking up at Cassidy.
"Probably," he countered.
"Probably, then, I was too hard on you. The school has been talking about what Tya did for her Jamian, for poor little Kendra. Your Cohort, you're all very idealistic, aren't you?"
"Idealistic?" She pondered that one, and compared her behavior and Jamian's against others. "I don't think that's quite it. I think - well, none of us, Jamian or Shahin or I, Ayla or Yngvi - we didn't get trapped into bad Keepings. We didn't get put in a situation where we couldn't do anything. And we got to see how horrid things could be."
Mabina opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Cassidy spoke instead. "I think what 'Bina wants to say is - it's hard for us to remember, because we saw things at a place where they were even worse, that just because something isn't as horrible as it was, doesn't mean it's good."
"Just because… oh." Kai thought about that for a bit. "Joff?"
"Joff," Mabina agreed, "Eris and Lydia and Rafe. Bless their souls, Ardell and Delaney."
"Aneislis and Shera…"
"And we can just hope that they make it through the year, and love them when they're done. Taking on Agatha, now, I know why you did it, and it was a clever way you did, too."
Kailani felt her cheeks flush. "Thanks?"
"She means it." Cassidy picked up the thread. "We really do. And there's nothing wrong with fighting for the good and right, there's not. We might have wished you'd picked your fights with a bit more care…"
"But Bowen, I'm sure, is glad you took the fight you did. Now," Mabina put her hands on her lap, and looked businesslike, while Kai was still trying to figure out what had just happened. "Now we need to figure out how to get our friends back to themselves."
Copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder. All rights reserved.
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