"Well maybe they ought not to let little girls into the SYO!" yelled Thomas angrily, having barely setting foot in the house.�Sylvia began to cry and Marguerite was in shock as she came down the stairs.
"Thomas Kenyon, what a thing to say!"
Sylvia looked up, wet eyes bloodshot and nose bright red, and she sniffled loudly in a most unladylike way, much as Marguerite did.�Thomas shrugged and Marguerite was appalled when over his face slid the slimiest expression, careless and as if the situation had nothing to do with him.�He was grinning and she thought he was going to say 'boys will be boys'.�"I'm sorry, Kassy.�I know you're a feminist sort.�And that's fine because you're a smart girl.�But Syl here isn't so clever as you and she's a disgrace to the SYO!"
"Why would you say that?�It isn't nice and Sylvia's just as anxious as you to - "
"She can't do any of the things that I'm going to do.�I'm a man and I'm going to be a great Shendleighan soldier.�But her?�She's going to stay home and keep house and have children to serve Shendleigh."
"That's what's going to happen, just you wait and see."
"Oh, Tommy…why would you ever think something like that?�And about your own sister…you don't really believe that, do you?�Your own flesh and blood, Tommy!"
"Everyone knows that a woman's job in the new Shendleigh will be to stay behind and battle on the home front.�It's common knowledge and the natural order of life."
She wanted to cry.�It was unreal.�"How did this happen to you?�You were such a good boy once and now you're saying - "
"We learn it at SYO meetings.�They teach us all about the natural arrangement and the normal pecking order.�It's neat to find all these things that no one else will tell you."
"Did you never think that perhaps, if only they are telling you, then they might be wrong?"
Thomas glared up at her with stern eyes that reminded her of a German man's she once knew.�"The Party is never wrong."
So that was it.�This unreal situation was her own fault.�Curse her for letting him go.�She should have ignored his depression at not being allowed to go, she should have backed up Channer.�The boy would have gotten over it eventually and none of this would have happened.�With a shake of her head she stood and went back upstairs without even bothering to comfort Sylvia, who was still sniveling.�All she wanted was to be out of range of the closed-minded little boy in the purple uniform.
Where had everything gone wrong?�It seemed like ever since she'd been taken to that place…ever since she'd come home nothing had been the same.�And that little whom she'd raised for all these years was turning into the rest of those madmen.�She supposed that it made sense.�There were posters everywhere about joining SYO, and even more about the rightful place of women.�But this boy…Channer's boy…it didn't seem possible.�In spite of having said the opposite, she really was disappointed in Thomas.�Yes she still loved him and would always take care of him, but she still had to admit that this little boy wasn't quite the same as the one she loved.�This one didn't laugh so much.�This one wasn't as nice.�He had very little in common with the old Thomas Kenyon except his biology, appearance, and name.
He was ten years old and he no longer wanted to play.�Just a few days before he'd come into the room holding a box as she was tidying and the girls were painting.�He didn't say anything, and he looked at them all contemptuously (now she understood exactly why he had - they'd been brainwashing him about women).�With complete singleness of mind, Thomas had gone to his toy box and begun putting every toy that belonged to him inside of it.�She had asked what he was up to.�He had replied that he was going to give away his toys because he'd outgrown them.�It hadn't seemed right… after all, he was still a little boy…but she wasn't going to argue with him if he felt too mature for them.�But when she'd gotten wind of the SYO burning their toys in a gesture of throwing off the frivolity of childhood and accepting the responsibility of becoming the dutiful men and women of Shendleigh, she knew that he had lied to her.�And she thought then that perhaps he was beyond her reach.�Now she knew it for a fact.
As for Ruthie, she'd never really had much gumption, never really been independent or intelligent like Sylvia.�And of course she was so young she couldn't possibly defend herself against the multiple-headed monster which was invading every aspect of existence.�Ruthie was more than likely not going to withstand the barrage of anti-female propaganda that was beginning to be churned out.�Ruthie would be beyond her reach, too.
Of course she loved all the children more than life itself…but now when she looked at them she couldn't help but feel a blockage in her throat.�The magic of two years ago had long gone, and now it was replaced by something grey and hard and frightening which she couldn't understand.
"Are you entirely positive you won't be needing me to go along?" she asked that Friday afternoon, watching the bags get stacked by the door and then be removed to the coaches by Jay and Abner.
"Yes, yes, I'm quite sure.�You know how grandparents are, they want every possible moment with the children they can get.�Not to be offensive Marguerite, but…you'd really be in the way if you came along."
"I understand, ma'am."�Inwardly she breathed a sigh of relief.�She didn't want to go with Pricilla and the children to visit Mrs. Rys.�She couldn't help but remember the last time she'd come into contact with the sharp old woman, and she wasn't anxious to do it again with so much more behind her.�And it was the most pleasant of prospects now to be left alone in the house with Channer.
"We'll be back in a few days.�The children have school Monday and naturally we can't miss that."�There was a hint of irritation in Pricilla's voice, since she was for the first time experiencing an inconvenience at the Party's hands.�"It'll only be until Sunday evening.�Can you manage on your own for two days?" she teased her husband, giving him an emotionless peck on the lips.
"I think I might be able to scrape by," he smiled.
"Alright, then.�Children, we're leaving!"
Three little pairs of feet bounded down the stairs at the same time, knocking into one another to get to the bottom first.�"No pushing, darlings, not on the stairs," scolded Marguerite softly, catching Sylvia under the arms and swinging her to the floor.�She looked down at the three children looking up at her with loving faces.�Just as Thomas' age had struck her a few weeks before, now all of their ages loomed up at her.�They wouldn't need her for long.�Thomas was ten, Sylvia was seven, Ruthie was five…what possible use was she to them when they were growing up?�They wouldn't need her anymore.�But she shook that thought away.�These children still loved her like another sibling, still adored her as they had when she'd first arrived.
"We'll miss you Kassy," Ruthie said, hugging her nanny.
"My darling," she laughed, hugging the child back.�"It's only for two days.�You'll be back before you know it.�You won't want to come home."�The other children hugged her, too, and it was only when their mother snapped at them that they had to catch their train that they let go.
She watched them climb into their coach and she watched the coach drive away until there was nothing left.�Sometimes the idea that those children wouldn't need her anymore gripped her like steel talons and wouldn't let go, penetrating her heart and stopping her breath.�Channer's hand closed around her arm, and she looked up at him.�Perhaps those children wouldn't always need her, but he would.�He would always need her…he would always love her.�Marguerite turned to face him, thankful for his presence and wanting to be in his arms.�He put a finger up swiftly, because the others were still present, and she stepped back.�Against her will her mind enquired something she wasn't ready for.�If the children finished with her she would have to leave.�And in that case, what would become of her and Channer?�What would become of them, of their work?�Wordlessly she turned and went up the stairs - two floors, not one - and waited patiently in a room that wasn't hers.
Channer came in nearly half an hour later.�He stopped short when he saw her, as always forgetting that she had a key now.�"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough," she smiled, standing, twisting her fingers.
"I was wondering where you'd gotten to."
She didn't know what to say.�In that moment she looked at him and felt her pulse leaping as specially as it always did when he was near her.�He seemed to be losing weight, but he was nevertheless still as stocky and broad as she'd loved all this time.�She could see the faintly golden stubble that was sprouting beneath his sideburns where he'd neglected to shave that morning.�When she looked at his flesh, so close to her but for dozens of reasons capable of being instantly taken from her, she was overpowered by the desire to prove to him not only that she loved him but that every word he said, every move he made, and every pamphlet he produced was of value.�When she looked at him she could almost feel her hands on his neck, arms around him, adoring him because he was, because he did exist and so did she and while existence still was it was most important to live.�Everyone was capable of existing; few were capable of living.�Those that breathed and moved and thought and acted did not always live.�In his eyes one could see that he did live.�Those eyes of blue steel could look into hers and she could see in them not only his life but her life and all lives.�Through him she saw the past and the future (the present was too dreadful to see in the eyes of a man such as him) and she could see all the things she'd ever wanted.�Marguerite took his hand and tugged it.�Their words were so seldom, now, because their minds were so strongly linked.�He followed her, and she unlocked the hidden door to his operation room.�Then she lifted the square in the floor and descended the stairs, down and down far past where a normal basement should be, to a hollowed out space filled with paintings and books and even records which were not supposed to be touched by anyone but a SAR with a match.
"Why have we come here, Rita?" he asked.
She couldn't help but note the exhaustion in his voice, couldn't help but see that the corners of his lips were sagging, that he suddenly, in the dim light the oil lamp provided, looked very old indeed.�Much older than his thirty-two years.�"I wanted…�I want you.�Here.�In this…room."
"Of all the unusual requests!" he laughed.�"Why?"
"Because…because these are all secret things.�Forbidden things.�Things we shouldn't have because the government doesn't think so, because they think it's detrimental to society.�We aren't supposed to have each other, either.�Because it takes away from the idea of a happily married couple.�I mean, look what they wanted to do to Margot.�She and her establishment subtract from a happy family.�I do, too.�And we must be together as much as we can, because it can't last forever.�I'm only here because of the children and soon they won't need - "
"Ah," he muttered softly.�"So you've realized it, too."
She was mute.�"You…you've thought of it before?"
"Several times.�The older Thomas gets, the clearer it is that time is slipping between our fingers.�I can't have you forever.�The more they grow, the farther you get from me.�If I could keep them young forever…"
Marguerite grabbed his arms.�"Please, don't - don't talk.�Love me.�That's what I want."�He kissed her and she smiled brightly against his lips, because she adored him so feverishly, so honestly.�She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him but his hands remained only very lightly on her waist.�He did not hold her back.�She tried to kiss him with gradual intensity but he remained pleasantly aloof.�No matter her tactics he seemed far away from her when she wanted him here, against her, loving her like she did him.�Slowly she removed her mouth from his and he put up no struggle.�"Channer…why don't you hold me?"
In his eyes she saw something that choked any further utterance.�The fever that always possessed his eyes when with her wasn't there.�His eyes, like his body, looked exhausted.�There was still life but it was a weak life, and she gripped him.�Why did he look this way?�He seemed so disinterested in everything, why was he so…changed?�And when had it happened?
"I'm sorry, darling; I was distracted by my thoughts.�Come here."�He held her close and let his teeth graze against her ear lobe.�"There.�Better?"
Marguerite nodded.�"Much more so."�With good sportsmanship she smiled and kissed his throat, but now her mind was distracted, too.�What was it?�Some emotion she wouldn't want him to feel, some way of being she couldn't bear for him to face.�What was it?�And then she knew, she knew as she felt the apathy in his hands that dully groped her breast: defeated.�In his eyes was life but it was being defeated by something bigger than losing her and something bigger than boredom and the deaths of loved ones.�She tipped her head from his shoulder and looked up into his eyes; he kissed her which meant she could not see, but she thought it was a deliberate kiss done not out of passion but so she wouldn't see.�But he was kissing her, and that was an improvement.�Patiently she waited for degradation, patiently she waited for a twist of the arm, teeth to the shoulder, a slap on her bottom, but nothing came.�He just kissed her (and disinterestedly) for several minutes.�Eventually she asked for some kind of abuse, some signal of the virility she was used to from him.�He tried to appease her, tried to find some way to abuse her that would satisfy her nerves and fuel his passion, but it wasn't working.�She was too busy trying to discover the source of that defeatism and he was too busy being full of that defeatism for any coupling to properly take place.
"I'm sorry, I can't," he scowled, turning from her.
"Why?�Channer, something is the matter and you're not telling me."
"I just…I haven't been feeling well.�I'm getting old, I'm tired."�He touched her arm.�"It's nothing to do with you.�I promise you that."�He smiled tenderly down at her and she accepted that it wasn't a lack of feeling for her.�It was a lack of energy because of that defeatism.
She grabbed him and pressed herself tightly against him, not bitter because he would not love her (she felt clearly that he still could if he chose to) or because he lacked the energy, but overcome by something else.�"I'm so frightened," she said into his chest.�"I can't explain it, but I feel it all the time.�Sometimes I can't sleep at night, it's so intense."
"I'll be there with you tonight," he soothed, but that wasn't good enough at that moment.
"I know.�And I appreciate it.�I've missed you.�I've missed waking up with you and laying with you.�But…I don't know if it will be enough.�I feel it all the time; I wake up with it,�I go to bed with it, everything I do and think is with the undercurrent of this fear, I can't…I can't imagine…"
"You weren't meant for captivity, Rita.�I think you've been here too long.�Should I let you go?�But I can't lose you."�And his face was in her neck.
"I'm not going anywhere.�Don't think that.�Shendleigh is my home.�And you… why would I leave you?�I love you."
"And I love you.�But I worry.�Living in this place destroys everyone.�I've lost more than enough friends and loved ones in the past ten years or so that I'm getting completely ruined trying to find new ways of keeping everyone afloat.�Is that so much to ask, Rita?" he demanded as he drew away from her.�"Is it so terrible of me to want everyone to live?�Is it so awful that I want to help people?"
"You're a good man, Channer.�You're just working too hard at something which is now considered impossible and unnatural.�But you're right.�And I…"�She stroked him gently, carefully, aware that she might be rebuked again.�But when he understood that he didn't have to act, that the pleasure was coming from her to him and in no other direction, he accepted her comforts.�She lowered herself and massaged him, swallowing her tears because no matter how she loved him she was beginning to fear him, too.�And when she kissed his hips and thighs it was done so her mouth was covered and her cries would be silenced.