Lieutenant Chang came back from Proxima Ceti IV a hero. My mom didn't come back at all.
"It was just her time," Dad said, his voice all echoey and weird through the rejuvenation pod that was regrowing his skin. He'd been mauled while saving Lieutenant Chang, but Mom's body had shielded him from the worst of the plasma beast. I could still see the shadows of her outstretched hands on his face, the skin clean and untouched by the burns that mapped the rest of him. Audrey Winters rummaged through the fridge. "Honey? We're out of lunchmeat! Can you go kill us a neighbor?"
Ron Winters set down his newspaper and groaned. "The rate we go through food around here!" A wintry blast followed the bearish man into the Grover's. He growled, stomped snow from his boots, then waved as greetings filled the tiny bar. Annie stopped in the middle of making a whisky sour to stare as he shrugged out of his heavy coat and hung it up.
Jose nudged Ed and nodded toward Annie, then they both laughed. She glared at them, finished making the drink and sat it in front of Bianca, whose hair was pink again this week. You pieced it together decades ago; so far back that you don't remember not knowing. The way it works is this: you see the pain in people's hearts, the way somebody else might notice a rend in fabric or a run in a pair of stockings. And just like one might repair and reweave damaged cloth, you repair the pain, by removing it and connecting the threads of life that surround the damage.
But there are rules. They have to be willing. Some people are so attached to their pain that they cling to it and can't let go. The pain is all they have, and if you were to remove it there would be nothing left. You can't help those. "Catherine," Father says, leaning against the machine. "Do you remember when we could turn off the rain?"
I step around beside him, careful not to tread on the headstone at my feet. The leaves of the beech tree are all a-patter overhead, the sky a swirling mass of dark grey clouds.
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