A few weeks had passed, and Keith made wonderful progress. He hit a growth spurt—as it were—a few days ago, and now he's a few inches away from his full height. He hasn't asked me for anything to drink, and I dare not offer him any, least he stunts his progress. But I wonder, have I really cured him?
"What will you do when you finish with me?" he asked me as he sat down at the kitchen table, where we've moved many of our conversations to.
I shrugged, "I don't know. I never think that far in advance."
"Good philosophy," he lifted his tea mug in toast.
As I thought about it, I realized that I probably was not destined to stay in the Company much longer. I had talked too much at the Moon's, so now they know nearly all of our secrets. It's actually amazing that there haven't been any Representatives around to take them away. It would probably attract too much attention. It's better to nip the bad bud than dig up the whole bush.
He seemed on the edge of his seat all day. Kim was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Mandy, which I thought strange. Did he have something in mind?
"Well, in about a week or so you'll be completely healed. And I must say, you've made stellar progress."
"All thanks to you, of course." He was looking at me strangely. My cheeks burned,
"You just have to be mindful for about six months and not go back to the booze or anything. We don't want to take any chances on your body not filtering it all out,"
"What would happen if I do?"
"You're not thinking about celebrating with champagne, are you?"
"No, no I was just curious."
"Well, at this stage you won't go back to being super small again, only stunted, and the likelihood of ever seeing five foot nine again decreases with every drink." My words must have been powerful enough for him, because he didn't say anything more about the subject.
"Does anything increase the rate of filtration?" he asked seriously.
"You're asking the kid you flunked sixth grade biology; I haven't the foggiest."
"But, do hormones or those kinda things have any affect on Alice's Powder?" he inched a little closer to me.
"I don't think so," I answered pedantically, "Why do you ask?"
"Because they're rushing through me now. Love and adrenaline, all for you, Terry." He pressed his body close to mine, rubbing his hands on my shoulders. Please tell me this was a nightmare!
"Keith, no," I scolded weakly, "this is not cool."
Oh yes it is! Argued the voice of the wild, sensual animal that lived inside of me. It lay waiting for the perfect chance to leap out and rebel from all that surrounded it, and now was it's opprotunity.
"Oh yes it is," he seemed to echo my thoughts in a breathy tone as he pressed his lips to mine.
Suddenly, the memories were clear. Jarvis when I first arrived to the Company.
The back closet.
The dark, stuffy room.
No way out.
The two of us.
My legs gave out.
My throat seized up, my heart raced.
My mind closed up.
I wanted to die.
I wanted to die a thousand times rather than face his wrath.
But then it was Keith. Only Keith.
That still didn't make it right!
In fact that made it worse!
Much much worse.
He's my patient.
He has a wife.
"No, Keith," I said, pushing him off of me, "you can't do this."
"But I love you, Terry," he confessed, "I've grown used to your presence. I've fallen for your stories of pity. I can take you away from all the misery you're in…"
"No you can't!" I cried pathetically, "You can't. Nobody can. Nothing could uproot the great menace of the Company. There is no force on this earth strong enough to knock it down. As for me, I got myself into this mess, let me get myself out. I've spent enough time running away from things, let me confront one thing in my life."
He was speechless. He stared at me, confused.
"Keith, I care about you too, and I love that you love me. But if you really care about me, you'll stay with Kim and Mandy. They love you, too."
He nodded, "I understand." I knew he did too. "I'm sorry, Terry. I hope you'll forgive..."
"I do," I replied, but my heart still raced in my chest.
"I think I need to spend some time alone," he said, "I'll be good, I promise."
"I trust you," I smiled as he slipped away, leaving me alone. I looked down, realizing that he had managed to unzip my jeans. I sighed, watching the dancing shadows of the leaves blowing in the wind outside.
I had only a moment of silence before Dougal burst in through the door. "At last! I've caught you!"
I stared at him perplexed. So what? He found me in the kitchen and my fly was undone, I've been in more embarrassing situations.
"You're in deep shit, Knotch. You'll get your just desserts."
"What do you mean?"
"The Company knows that you've been a tricky bitch for quite some time. Plotting to get away, telling confidential secrets, living recklessly," I grew pale. He meant my activities with the Moons.
"You aren't going to hurt them, are you?"
"Who, the Moons? Nah, well, if the Company does, you'll find it hard to stop 'em when you're six feet under.
"Oh don't tell me you didn't notice?" he jeered, seeing my confused face, "You've been experiencing black outs, cramps, nausea? It's not the flu, Knotch, it's Infidel's Draft."
I swallowed in fear. I've only heard legend of the stuff, a chemical the Company gives to traitors which gives them a slow and excruciatingly painful death because the victim ages from the inside out.
"Yes, you were injected with it when you first came into the Company, as we all were, but it lies dormant until something triggers it. For you, it was that one upper you had a few weeks ago, but that wasn't enough to send it raging through your system quickly enough to kill you. Now you've gone and gotten down with Keith (I knew were no good, Knotch), and the process will speed up now."
"No, we didn't. It was just…"
"I feel safe in telling you this now since you don't have much time left on this earth, but my mission was beyond just insuring that you were on schedule, but to see what you and the Ulysses bloke were doing to escape from the Company. For you see, that when the letter came, I gave you a bit of a booster shot of a super potent formula, if you will. The Company has no place for traitors of any kind, and so I thought I'd do 'em a favor and get rid of you."
I couldn't believe this. I mean, I never liked Dougal, nor trusted him, but to think he'd kill me? He didn't even give me a chance.
"I hope the Company finds your actions out of line and kills you."
"They aren't out of line, but rather living up to their motto: 'For the Good of Others.' You should have thought of that before you ever uttered a word to Moon," he snarled at me, then slammed the door behind him as he left.
A piercing pain shot up through my abdomen. If what he says was true, that might be my body reminding me that I didn't have much longer to live.
I wish I were a little girl again, somewhere far away from the real world. Then if I were to curl up into a ball and cry, as I proceeded to do on the kitchen floor, no one would think anything of it. I could just hide from the world, and live out in the wild forever. But it has just struck me now that I am no longer young.
* * *
I was now too weak to leave my bed. It all felt too wrong to me. I had just helped Keith, and now he and his wife were helping me. Maybe it was that no one had really ever done anything for me before. I'm not sure if they know that there is no hope for me; I can't tell them that. I'm too afraid too. If I do, they might abandon me as a worthless cause. So long as there's hope, they stay close to me. I don't want to die alone.
"Terry, there's something that Keith and I want to do," said Kim, pulling her chair closer to me. She glanced over to her husband, who nodded her encouragement, "We've been thinking it over, and we've decided that it would be a good thing to ring your parents."
I ogled them incredulously, "Why would you do that, so that you can finally give them something to rejoice over? Their pain in the backside nearly dead at last!"
"No! Not that at all," Keith interjected, "It's just, I think that perhaps that they do love you, but they didn't realize it then. Maybe they're ready to tell you now."
I rolled my eyes. "There's no way in a million years either of them would ever say 'I love you' to me."
"How do you know?"
"You've told me that your foible is facing that pains you," Kim began, "This would show tremendous strength. Your parents would only remember you as a cowardly little girl, because you were when you ran away. Let them know that you've grown to be a courageous young woman."
I shook my head, for I had no other words. A sharp pain was slicing through my abdomen; I couldn't look at either of them. Their bright faces just made me ache even more. And yet…
"Don't let me talk to them unless they specifically ask for me," I ordered. "I'll give you their number, but I'm not sure if it'll still work."
The young couple smiled eagerly, and Kim grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. After she scribbled down the number, Kim begged me to rest.
"I'm proud of you, Terry," she said, giving my clammy hand a squeeze before leaving me.
Keith stayed with me though, not saying anything for a while, but pondering what words he would say to his rescuer who now lay before him so pathetically.
"You aren't completely healed," I explained, removing some of the pressure the silence was creating over us. "Perhaps, if I am strong enough later, I can help you finish."
"Can I do it by myself?"
"No, your mind will go too easy on you; you need a firm hand to guide you to recovery. It's a shame, you might want to invest in some high heeled boots, that way no one will think that you've shrunk or something."
He gave a stiff laugh that didn't last long. "In a year or so, you can drink again."
"Why would I? How can I?" he retorted, "That would be an insult to you and all that you've done for me. I just hope that if I'm ever tempted to go looning about again, I'll think of our sessions together and that will be enough to stop me."
I smiled weakly, disguising the grim facts behind my sunny face. If he really wanted to go back on his old path, it wouldn't be hard for him to find it with enough booze. Even Alice's Powder isn't perfect. If a predicament is a strong enough presence in his character, it will trump these past few weeks. But I couldn't say that. I couldn't say much of anything, anyhow, as I was brimming in bliss.
He took my hand, and kissed it in the gentlemanly way that is only read about in books and seen in movies, and whispered to me, "I love you, Terry. Even if everyone else refuses to see how warm and loving you are, I'll fill their voids with more of my love."
How poetic, I thought cynically.
He could tell what I was thinking, "Okay, I can't take credit for most of that. The words come from Pete's scrapped lyrics pile, but the love is my own."
That meant more to me than anything he'd ever said to me, because even though I had failed, at the same time, I really had succeeded.