It was the middle of the afternoon when the subtle chime of the door woke her. Internationale stirred from beneath the covers of her warm bed, groaning, a hand halfheartedly reaching for her phone on the bedside table. Brushing the tousled hair out of her eyes, she squinted them against the painfully bright blue screen. 14:38. She groaned again, desperately wanting to go back to sleep, but willed herself to climb out of bed.
“Lights,” she muttered to the automated system, grabbing the over-sized shirt at the foot of her bed. Internationale didn’t like sleeping in pajamas when she didn’t have to; they tended to bunch up or twist around her whenever she rolled over. It felt like being strangled.
The door chimed a second time.
“It’s open,” she answered with a yawn, not expecting Central to be the one standing at her door. Internationale visibly stiffened. Usually she was ready for any meetings in advance. Did it manage to slip her mind?
She had expected Prism, honestly. The former star had taken it upon herself to make sure she got out once in a while, so the two would occasionally hang out whenever their days off coincided. It was usually just lunch or coffee, but every once in a while Prism would plan what she liked to call a ‘girls night out.’ Internationale didn’t really care for the club scene; she’d much rather curl up in bed with a good book, but the friendship was nice.
“Sorry to wake you,” Central spoke in her usual stern manner, seemingly disinterested in Internationale’s disheveled appearance, even as the agent was busy smoothing down her hair to look presentable. She picked up on this, however, and adjusted. “I know it’s been a long week, Valdez, and I honestly wish I didn’t have to bother you with something like this...” She then sighed in a way that suggested both frustration and disappointment. “It’s Decker.”
Internationale knew that tone and braced herself for what she already knew was coming. Dammit, Decker. What did you do this time? “What happened?”
“Nothing… yet.” Her brows narrowed, even though her eyes darted off somewhere for a moment.
Second-hand embarrassment, perhaps. Agents were a reflection of the agency, after all, and herself by extent. Even Central wondered why she put up with Decker sometimes, but then she remembered how difficult unwavering loyalty was to come by. He couldn’t be bought, and when he was sober (or what passed for it), he was a key asset. Pity might have also had its hand in it. She could afford to pity him, she supposed, so long as he did what she needed.
“Normally, I’d leave him to his own devices. He’s a grown man... but I’m eager to avoid a repeat of last time.” Her eyes came back to Internationale’s, folding her arms. Last time involved an FTM detention center and Central doing damage control. She’d kept a closer eye on him after that. “I tracked his uplink signature to a pub across town. I’d like you to go there, pick him up, and take him home. You’re his friend... Hopefully he won’t give you too much trouble.”
“Yes, we’re friends, but... that doesn’t mean he’ll listen to me.” People actually listening to her would be a welcome change, but this whole thing made Internationale a bit uneasy. It wasn’t exactly the wisest course of action to come between Decker and his next drink. Shalem tried that once; it got ugly. She doubted he’d react the same way with her, but that wasn’t what made her uncomfortable.
Decker didn’t trust easily. It took a long time for them to overcome certain preconceptions about each other—many years and many more arguments—but somehow they managed to bridge the vast gap between them. She wasn’t exactly eager to burn it.
Central’s eyes seemed to harden. “If he doesn’t, kindly remind him who’s paying for his debauchery.”
A thirty minute train ride and a short walk later, and Internationale was standing outside the location Central had sent her. Or rather, above it. The entrance lay beneath the street at the bottom of a cracked, concrete staircase. A large neon sign overhead read BAR, which was the only reason she even managed to spot the place. Leave it to Decker to find a literal hole in the wall.
Several people loitered nearby, smoking. One of them—a young man with a tattooed face—sat at the top of the stairs, eyeing her as she pretended not to notice. He was the reason she found the courage to go inside.
The inside looked about as cheerful as the outside, and that smell—AUGH! Internationale spent the first minute or two coughing into her sleeve as watchful eyes scanned the room. The dim lighting of the bar mixing with the cigarette smoke created a sickening, yellowy haze that blanketed the room, though from the entrance she couldn’t make out anyone that resembled Decker. Frowning, she decided to start at the bar.
“Excuse me, have you seen—” Internationale tried flagging the bartender, but between the noisy patrons and music, he didn’t seem to notice her.
“Maybe I can help?” The young man beside her spun around in his seat, flashing his tongue piercing as he spoke. “Name’s Ricky. What’s your name, gorgeous?”
Internationale struggled not to roll her eyes. “Maria...” She said out of politeness and to avoid a scene. Who knows, maybe this guy had seen Decker. “I’m looking for a friend…”
“Hey, I’ll be your friend, Maria!” He cut her off, looking back over his shoulder as the guy behind him just shook his head and laughed. Ricky laughed with him. “Why don’t you let me buy you a drink?”
With a curl of her lip, she said, “maybe some other time,” and immediately walked away.
“Aw, don’t be like that, baby. I’m a nice guy.” She heard him say. Thankfully, he didn’t follow after her.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, Internationale opted to simply look for Decker herself; which didn’t take long. After several minutes of searching, a familiar voice rang out somewhere behind her. It was… unusually cheerful.
“Ha-ha! C’mon, fellas, make it a challenge, at least.”
Her head snapped in its direction. Sure enough, there was Decker. He was sitting in the back, drinking and carrying on with a small crowd. Two men sat with him donning uniforms she didn’t recognize. Not security guards, she noted. She hoped Decker wasn’t that foolish. A few people hovered near their table, watching, laughing, and cheering. She quickly moved to investigate.
She called his name to get his attention, but his eyes were screwed tight and his mouth drawn into a thin line. Internationale just stared at him for a moment, confused, until her eyes landed on the small tablet in his right hand. She sighed miserably, realizing then what he was doing. The same shit that got him in trouble last time. Decker, you promised.
He couldn’t help himself—drunk Decker sometimes had a mind of his own—but her heart sank a little each time he lied.
“Woah…!” His head shot up and he blew out air, rolling what looked like a chill from his shoulders. He shook his head, jabbing a pinky in his ear and wiggling it about for a second. “Cold and like someone is playing my spine like a flute, so… Echo?”
He slid the device back across the table and reached for a shot of liquor. The black man beside Decker clasped him on the back, laughing like he couldn’t get over it. Decker nearly spilled his whiskey. He seemed largely unphased by their slack-jawed amusement, focusing instead on the line of shots it was currently earning him.
“No fucking way!” Exclaimed a young blonde—the tablet’s owner. Internationale thought she looked a little too young to be in a place like this. “How’d you do it?”
“A magician never reveals his secrets, heh,” he answered wryly, not looking at her.
“Show’s over, Brian.” Internationale stepped up where he could see her, hands firmly planted in her jacket pockets.
“Hey…! It’s my favorite firebrand!” Decker’s voice beamed when he saw her, spreading his arms wide. “Hey, guys, this here’s Maria. Maria, this is… Um...” He paused and rubbed the back of his head, looking at the men beside him. “Fuck, what were your names again?”
“Tray.” The one still laughing answered, shaking his head humorously at Decker’s question. “This here’s Mark.”
“Hi, Maria...” Mark added, looking up at Internationale with a lazy smile. He was clearly buzzed, but at least neither of them were giving her that creep vibe. She smiled back to be polite. Tray and Mark at least seemed average, two working people just trying to forget their worries. It wasn’t difficult to grasp why Decker felt comfortable here.
“Here, have a seat, doll.” Decker nudged a wobbly chair out with his foot. “Celebrate with us.”
“What are we celebrating?” She asked curiously, taking a seat. If it wasn’t for the alcohol, it would’ve been a welcome change to see Decker so lively. The best thing to do was play along. Chances were he knew why she was there, anyway; best not to make a scene.
“Free booze,” Tray said with a wide smile, giving Decker a friendly nudge with his elbow. “Courtesy of our boy, here. That’s some tight shit you do, man.”
“Heh, well, when life gives you lemons...” Decker grinned a touch darkly as he reached for another drink.
“I’ll drink to that.” Mark chimed in, clinking his shot glass against Decker’s before they both downed them.
They practically slammed them down on the table with a harsh THUD afterward. Internationale involuntarily flinched at the sound, but no one seemed to notice. She mostly watched them as they drank and made conversation, silently contemplating how to get Decker to leave the bar voluntarily with her.
The others that had been standing around the table dispersed once they realized the ‘show’ was over. Now, how to get rid of Tray and Mark?
“You’re not celebrating, doll. Here,” Decker’s voice interrupted her thoughts as he slid a shot in front of her. “Have a drink.”
Internationale pondered the alcohol for a moment, having no real intention of complying, but it had given her an idea. “You know, I just got back in town… I was hoping we could celebrate alone?”
He raised a curious eyebrow. Ever since he’d known her, rarely did Internationale mince words, but even Decker was a little skeptical of her invitation. Not that he wasn’t intrigued. There had always been this looming something between them—a harmless flirt, a friendly kiss, a lingering touch—but he was all kinds of wrong for her and was painfully aware of it.
Thankfully, the alcohol was enough to dull any pain or doubts. He turned to Tray, who was already giving him this knowing look. “You… uh… You fellas don’t mind clearing out, do ya?”
“Nah, man. I feel you. I’d rather get some, too.” Tray then leaned over the table, taking a drink in each hand before standing. “But thanks for the lovely parting gift, ha-ha!” He then nudged Mark, who grabbed one for himself before jokingly bowing out.
“Yeah, yeah…” Decker waved them off with a smirk.
“Nice to see you’re making friends,” Internationale observed. There was no mistaking the irony in her voice.
“Heh, you know me, ” he chuckled, lighting the cigarette he’d pulled out of his coat.
“I do know you.”
Decker took a long drag and exhaled slowly, studying her through the smoke. “So, you really wanna celebrate? Or did you just come here to bust my balls?”
Well, that stung a little. “Central sent me.”
“Ah, I see.” His voice was calm and even, though Internationale thought she detected a hint of disappointment. “Was wondering how you managed to find me.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time!” She was quick to add. “Just... not here.”
“Want me all to yourself, huh?”
Internationale couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. It was difficult to gauge Decker’s mood if he’d been drinking, but if it got them out of here faster...
“¿Tu lugar o el mío?” she grinned mischievously, folding her arms. She wondered if he even understood her.
Decker laughed loudly, even slapped his knee, so perhaps he did. Or perhaps he was just drunk. Either way, her response clearly amused him. “T-tell you what, doll, I’ll come quietly.” He nodded to the shot that was still in front of her. “If...”
Her eyes slowly traveled from the drink in question back to Decker. He was giving her this sly look, almost as if he were daring her.
“You know I don’t drink,” she reminded.
Real alcohol was expensive and hard to come by, unless you were wealthy and incorporated. The opiate of the masses these days was a synthetic variant, which was why some bars took to illegally distilling their own. It was all well and good until someone died of methanol poisoning. Even establishments advertising ‘real spirits’ often watered down their liquor. Not to mention, capitalism bred addiction. Decker was living proof of that.
“You don’t do anything except burn the candle at both ends.” Decker gestured with his cigarette before taking another puff. He exhaled sharply. “Who’s gonna lecture my sorry ass when yours is all burned out?”
“I thought you didn’t want me busting your balls?”
“Maybe a little,” he smiled sheepishly, “but seriously, would it kill you to let your hair down once in a while? Whoever heard of a Cuban that didn’t drink?”
Internationale just cocked her head sideways, giving him a look.
“It’s rum,” he added with a teasing grin.
“Fine,” she conceded with a sigh, figuring it was better to simply have it over and done with than to waste time arguing. One less drink for him. “Never say I don’t do anything for you.”
His smile only grew wider.
Internationale stared down at the drink for a long second before picking it up, turning the gold colored liquid in her hand to carefully inspect it. She then gave it a quick sniff, wrinkling her nose at the strong, phenolic smell. She passed a wary glance at Decker. “Are you sure about the quality of this?”
He shrugged, “I’ve been here a couple of hours and I’m not dead yet.”
Well, that was reassuring.
She held the glass at eye level, hesitating, closing her right to peer through the drink with her left. Aside from the pungent aroma that was slowly making her sick, the rum itself was reassuringly translucent.
“Oh, for fucks sake...”
“Okay, okay!” Internationale inhaled and blew the air out of her mouth sharply, preparing herself before downing the drink… only to have her gag reflex instantly kick in. She doubled over the table, face screwed up as sickly shivers racked her spine. “Oh—f-fuck!” She cursed between fits of coughing.
Decker laughed uproariously, coughing out smoke as tears prickled in the corners of his red eyes.
He wasn’t sure which was better, Internationale barely stomaching a single shot, or the fact that she actually took one. He almost wanted to slide her another. ’Drink up, babe! Let’s paint the town red,’ was something he suddenly remembered telling his ex-wife. It seemed less amusing the more he thought of it.
He leaned forward to give Internationale a gentle nudge on the shoulder. “Hey… You alright?”
“That… was vile.” Her head was buried in her arms on the table, waiting for the feeling to pass. Internationale had had rum before, lots of it back in the insurgency, but she didn’t remember it tasting like some kind of fiery piss water. Her throat had this sickening after burn.
“Yeah, sorry,” he smoothed his hand down her back, rubbing gently. “You get used to it.”
She shrugged his hand off, muttered something Decker thought sounded like ‘pendejo.’ He deserved that, he supposed, sighing as he exhaled another cloud of smoke.
“Well, deal’s a deal, I guess.” He took one last puff before snuffing out a still good cigarette. His chair scrubbed against the concrete floor when he stood. Adjusting his trench coat, he politely offered his hand. “Let’s blow this joint.”
Internationale swatted it away. “That was a dirty trick, Brian.” She stood up, purposefully bumping her shoulder into him as she pushed past.
“Aw, c’mon, Maria, don’t be like that.” He followed after her, pleading. Nice going, jackass.
“This guy bothering you, Maria?”
She recognized Ricky’s obnoxious voice from earlier. Other than sighing in annoyance, she ignored him. Decker didn’t.
“The fuck are you?” His voice went surly.
Ricky glanced up at him from beneath his narrowed brow, flicking his barbell against his teeth. Decker was taller, despite the slouch. His coat served to conceal just how thin he actually was, so he cut a rather imposing figure. Ricky was a broad guy with some lean muscle beneath his pilling jacket. Internationale didn’t like the way they were looking at each other.
“Brian, come on,” she attempted to hook her arm around his.
“Wait. You’re actually leaving with this drunk?” Ricky cocked a thumb at Decker.
“You got a problem with that, pal?” He pulled away from her, taking a step toward Ricky.
“¡Vete pa la pinga!” Internationale snapped at Ricky as she went for Decker’s arm again. “Brian, please. Let’s just go.”
“Bitch, I was just tryin'a be nice... but I get it, now.” Ricky’s voice rose as he looked her up and down. "You’re just some skank lookin' for an easy mark."
Internationle's mouth fell open, speechless, but before she could even think of responding, Decker had beat her to the punch—literally—with a solid left hook to Ricky’s jaw. It all happened so fast, though Internationale swore she heard the distinct CRACK of bone.
Ricky was knocked senseless, stumbling back against the wall as he tried to maintain balance. Blood was dripping from his mouth as he spat teeth.
“Looks like you need a lesson in manners,” Decker taunted, marching over to pick Ricky up by the collar of his jacket and pin him hard against the wall. “Now, apologize to the nice lady… Or the only thing you’ll be jacking into anytime soon is a neural stimulator.”
Some nearby patrons finally took notice the commotion and were tapping the shoulders of others and pointing at them. Internationale looked around nervously as they began to draw a crowd; practically everyone was whipping out their phones. So much for not causing a scene.
“Brian, stop! He’s not worth it!”
“F-fuck you,” Ricky spit blood in Decker’s face, though it just ended up on his coat. “When I tell my boys—“
“Bad move.” Decker interrupted with a punch to Ricky’s gut, then another, and another, and another, and showed no signs of relenting. He was almost enjoying it.
“Enough, Brian! Enough!” Internationale pleaded, pulling him off Ricky before he did something he regretted.
Decker was surprisingly strong for his weight—fast, too. She’d seen him do worse on past missions after only a few punches. Fortunately, it was only when necessary. She chalked it up to his extensive augmentation, a subject he carefully danced around. After a while, she stopped asking.
When Decker released him, Ricky fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. He was gasping for air and coughing blood as he cradled his stomach with one hand. Decker resisted the urge to follow through with a swift kick, if only for Internationale’s sake. The look in her eyes seemed to quiet his anger.
”Get the hell out of my bar before I call security!” A deep voice interjected. Internationale turned just as the large man came stomping towards them, shoving a finger at Decker. She recognized him as the bartender from earlier. “And I better not catch your faces here again.”
Decker opened his mouth, as if to argue, but Internationale quickly interceded. “Sorry—you won’t.” Her face was as apologetic as her words, though that quickly changed the second her eyes found Decker’s.
By the time they reached his apartment complex—an aged building on the other side of town—the alcohol had finally caught up with him, his face pressing against the cool metal of the front door as he struggled to insert the keycard. He took a deep, lazy breath that turned into a yawn.
“Brian,” her voice startled him, “the door?”
He cleared his throat, sniffling. “Y-yeah, I got it.” Click. “See?”
He nearly fell through the door as it opened, stumbling into the darkness of the room and catching himself on the sofa. Internationale followed him inside, feeling along the adjacent wall for the light switch. She flipped it and a dust covered bulb flashed overhead.
It had been a few weeks since her last visit, but everything was practically the same. Boxes of books, tapes, and other antiques were scattered throughout the small living space; more were stacked on a rusted metal desk in the corner. A few shirts hung over a faded, pleather sofa and blankets hung over the windows in place of curtains. Parts of old tech and tools littered the coffee table, like he had taken a bunch of different things apart. In the middle was a near-empty bottle of Jim. More empty bottles sat on the kitchen counter beside a week old pile of dishes.
“Home sweet home, heh,” Decker chuckled, tossing his hat on the coffee table as he plopped down on the sofa. He ran a hand through his hair, scratching his scalp as his eyes came to rest on the bourbon.
“It could be, if you cleaned it up a little.” Internationale remarked, offhandedly.
She sighed quietly. Decker’s attitude was difficult even at the best of times and she didn’t feel like arguing. Instead, she sat down beside him on the couch. “You working on something?”
“Hm? Oh!” He was confused until he followed her eyes to the table. “Eh… sorta? I got this old amp and was seeing if I could swap some parts... Found this real nice boombox I’d like to get working. Magnavox.”
“Yeah, you know… portable stereo? Guys used to carry them around on their shoulders and what not. “He demonstrated this with his arm, hooking it up toward his head and bobbing to a nonexistent tune.
Internationale just shook her head him, giggling. Decker could also be uncharacteristically adorable sometimes.
“Hey, they were all the rage in the eighties,” he maintained with a grin. “We’ll make a date of it… That is, if I ever get the damn thing working.”
She smiled back. “It’s a date.”
“Heh, well… good.” His face seemed to grow redder as those green eyes lingered. He averted his own, finding the bourbon once more. Out of habit, or perhaps the uncomfortable silence that had suddenly fallen between them, he gave in.
Internationale frowned, intending to say nothing as he reached for it—she knew it wouldn’t change anything—but then she (thankfully) noticed something. “There’s blood on your coat.”
“Huh? Where?” Decker used his free hand to tug at his trench coat, catching sight of a sizable bloodstain on its lapels. He sat the drink down almost instantly. “Ah—fuck,” he cursed all the way to the kitchen. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Decker desperately dug through drawers in search of something he could use to clean his coat with, but most of his dish rags and other towels were either dirty or missing. Internationale walked around from the other side of the island, a pitiful look on her face as she watched him furiously scrubbing the stain with a smelly, wet rag.
“I’m gonna kill that son of a bitch.” He mumbled to himself.
She gently took his scrubbing hand in hers. “Here, you’re going to fray it that way. Let me.”
Decker huffed, though it was more at the situation than her, giving her the washcloth. “Fucking figures. I’ll never get this shit out, now.”
“You’re always so negative,” she said, taking his lapel between her fingers to tamp it. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll try peroxide. It’ll be okay.”
“Peroxide will just bleach it.” He sighed miserably. “Guess that’s better than a bloodstain, though.”
In the silence that fell afterward, Decker began to replay the afternoon’s events in hid mind. The parts with Internationale, in particular. It seemed like every time he turned around she was always cleaning up the messes he made. Picking him up from dive bars, patting his back as he puked cheap liquor, cleaning it up off the floor if he missed, covering for him…
“I wasn’t always like this, you know,” he said suddenly, hanging his head. “I used to be somebody...”
Where did that come from? She wondered. “You still are somebody.”
“Heh,” he chuckled, an attempt to appear nonchalant. “Nice of you to say, doll, but we both know that’s not true.”
“Depends on how you measure self-worth.” Her eyes slowly rose to study his for a second. They seemed heavy and tired, and not just from the alcohol. She couldn’t help but pity him.
“Even by your standards, it’s pretty clear cut. I mean, you’re so… good and I’m so…” He started making awkward hand gestures to his person and surroundings before sighing, defeated.
“If you don’t like what you see, change it. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.” Her tone was sincere and her eyes soft, almost pleading.
Decker smiled, sadly, bringing one hand up to cradle her cheek. “You do too much already… and I’m honestly not worth it.”
Internationale sighed. His words frustrated her, and yet she found herself relaxing into his gentle touch. “Then tell me what you do want. Be honest with me, Brian… Just once.”
“Brian, I…” Her eyes fell half-lidded, looking off to the side.
“S’okay, doll, I understand.” He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before withdrawing, apologetically.
“No, it’s just…” Internationale shifted nervously. She knew what she wanted to say, but it was difficult with those sad brown eyes staring down at her.
“I’m just getting all these mixed signals from you,” she explained anyway. “You’re either pulling me close or pushing me away… Then after a while we just go back to normal and pretend nothing ever happened. I’m tired of pretending, Brian.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I want to. I’m just… scared,” he admitted.
“Losing you… Fucking it all up… Because that’s what’ll happen.” His face turned sour, angry with himself. “Everything I touch turns to shit, just ask my ex-wife.”
“I’m not her, you know.” She carefully took his hands in her own, giving them a reassuring squeeze. Decker almost never spoke of Rachael—his ex. It was only recently that she had even learned her name. The only thing she really knew was that he blamed himself for losing her.
“Yeah, but… You remind me of her, at times. Intellectual, articulate… She loved classic literature and waxing philosophical.” He squeezed her hands back, brushing over her knuckles with his thumbs. His eyes went downcast. “We even do similar things together. The movies, the music… I could talk to her about Steinbeck for hours.”
“That’s circular reasoning. It doesn’t have to be like that.” She inched closer, tilting her head so that their eyes met. She offered a little smile. “I think I have a pretty good idea about you after eight years.”
Decker laughed quietly through his nose. “I think you’re forgetting the part where we hated each other.”
“See?” Her smile grew wider. “You’re not the same man you once were.”
“Still not good enough.”
“You’re trying, Brian…” Another squeeze as her smile vanished. “But you don’t have to do it alone.”
Decker swallowed the lump that suddenly formed in his throat. Those intense green eyes were eating him alive. “How did I get so lucky?” He whispered to no one, slowly leaning forward to place a soft kiss on her lips before catching himself.
“S-sorry,” he murmured, his cheeks burning. “I… uh… I’m still pretty drunk.”
“It’s okay.” Internationale said, disheartened. He just wasn’t ready. “C’mon, let’s get some sleep. We can talk about it later… Okay?”
She saw him to the bedroom, a small space with a small window. The bed was a mess, practically buried beneath his dirty laundry, yet looked as though it hadn’t been slept in. Or slept in correctly, anyway. Decker’s hat collection, however, was neatly displayed on a rack in the corner. It was somewhat comforting, a subtle reminder that he did care about some things.
While Decker fumbled with the buttons of his coat, Internationale sorted his clothing into manageable piles on the floor.
“You want window side or bathroom side?” He asked a moment later. She turned to look at him, confused. He was bracing himself against the wall to kick off his shoes. “Actually, scratch that, I think I need the bathroom more than you.”
Internationale wasn’t sure what to think, only that it was odd how normal everything suddenly seemed, as if they were on assignment. Whenever a mission required them to share a hotel room, Decker would always asked which side of the bed she preferred. It was the little things that brought them closer. Now they only made her sad.
“Is that a good idea?” She questioned.
“Okay, you can have the bathroom side,” he replied, seemingly oblivious.
“That’s not what I meant, Brian...”
“I know, I know,” he rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, shamefaced. “Look, just… stay here, okay? We’ll… We’ll figure it out.”
Internationale’s eyes widened a little. “Do you really mean that?”
“No more pretending… Right?” His eyes slowly rose and he attempted a smile. She could sense his discomfort.
“Right,” she replied, tentatively.
Still, it was a start.