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This Year, Today

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The first year - well. The first year Myka is there. The first year Helena isn't a bronze statue, or incorporeal, or hiding in Wisconsin - the first year May 16th rolls around and Helena wakes up in Myka's bed – that first year, Myka is asleep when Helena wakes up at 5:30. Helena rolls over and out of bed, abruptly, is gone by the time Myka blinks the sleep out of her eyes.

Myka doesn't see her again until late, almost midnight, when Helena pushes the door open to Myka's room, disheveled and pale, and Myka opens her arms to her, silently. Helena avoids her eyes and her arms, curls up next to her without a word and feigns sleep, though Myka can tell by her breathing that she's far from it.

She wakes at 2 am when Helena finally breaks, rolls over and tucks her head into Myka's shoulder and heaves dry sobs into her chest. Her whole body shakes, and Myka doesn't move except to curl the arm under Helena's body up and around her, afraid any more will send her over some edge and back away from her.

 

(July 14 is hard too. But it's a cleaner, less complicated hard. It's a day Helena and Myka leave town, go somewhere away from everyone, somewhere they’re the only people for miles in any direction. Somewhere Helena can scream and break things, things Myka saves up ahead of time in a cardboard box. A day Helena collapses into herself and howls with fury and Myka touches her back, just presses, not moving.)

***

The second year, when Helena wakes, Myka is already awake. Reading, sitting up, waiting for Helena, even though it's 5:15 in the morning.

Helena rolls over and curls up into herself and Myka asks her if she wants to be held. When Helena shakes her head, violently, Myka just stays there, waits for Helena to get up, hours later, eyes red and swollen, before she rises to get dressed and make breakfast.

Helena doesn’t fly away that time, but neither does she say a word, all day. Myka stays, unobtrusive, doing busywork at her desk, bringing plates to Helena that she doesn’t touch, while Helena writes in her journal, lies in bed and sleeps, or pretends to sleep, all afternoon.

At night, Myka slides into bed next to her and Helena rolls over and into her and allows herself to be folded into Myka’s arms, quaking.

***

The third year, when Helena wakes, Myka is already awake, writing in her journal. Helena reaches out and touches her arm and Myka sighs and covers her hand with her own, carefully not looking. She doesn’t say a word until Helena gets out of bed hours later, sunlight streaming in the window, mid-morning.

 

"So what are we doing today?" Myka asks, as Helena walks to the bathroom.

"You don't have to do anything, Myka."

"What do you usually do today, then?"

Helena close her eyes and stands perfectly still, halfway into the bathroom. "I don't know. Last year I… you were here. The year before that, I drove to the Badlands and walked until I couldn't feel my feet anymore. The year before that, I had to pretend nothing was happening. The year before that passed without my knowing. The year before that - and a hundred years before - that was a time without beginning or end."

A pause, then: "And before that?" Myka asks quietly.

Helena swallows. "Before that, I spent today as I did every day. Manic. Desperate."

"OK,” Myka says slowly. “So how do you want to spend today this time, then?"

"Want?" Helena’s voice is hollow. "What I want is for today to not exist."

Myka just nods and waits, while Helena stands in the doorway, closing her eyes and rolling her head around as if to shake something out of herself.

Finally she offers, "I want to go take a shower."

"Sounds like a good start,” Myka replies gently. “Can I make you a cup of tea while you do that?"

"And toast. With nothing on it, please." Helena closes the door.

 

When she comes back, clean, scrubbed too hard, there's a tray on the bed. Myka is gone. Helena sits down and eats mechanically, a towel wrapped around her chest, hair dripping onto the floor.
Myka slips back in, pulling her own hair back, dressed, fresh.

"Would you like to know how I've celebrated today, so far?" she asks quietly, hesitantly, sitting next to her, not touching. Close enough to close the gap without getting up, if Helena chooses to close it.

Helena looks at her, cup of tea frozen halfway to her lips. "Celebrated...? There's nothing to celebrate about today."

Her voice is so sharp Myka winces, but she replies evenly, "Yes. Yes, there is. Today, in 1890, someone you love very, very much was born."

Helena doesn’t say a word in response, so after a beat Myka continues. “So far, I’ve donated to the children’s hospital, and to send a girl to school in a country where that isn’t required. And I’ve written a letter to my mom. Later, if it’s ok with you, I’d like to make her a cake. What was her favorite flavor?”

Helena still says nothing. She sets her cup back down on the tray. Myka waits. “We don’t have to eat it,” she adds, softly, “I just thought -”

“Almond.” Helena says, suddenly. “Almond seed cake.”

Myka nods. “Thank you.”

***

There was the year – six? seven? - where they were on a retrieval, in Utah, on May 16th, and Helena had absolutely insisted that she would be fine, that she was a fully functional human capable of compartmentalizing. Then someone tried to make a break for it after she'd told him hands up and she'd screamed something incoherent and Teslaed him so hard it had taken him almost thirty minutes to come around, and that was the last time Artie scheduled Helena or Myka anywhere to be on that day.

***

The hardest year is the year Myka is pregnant.

Helena wakes up and her hand is resting on Myka's belly and her fingers tighten convulsively. Myka wakens instantly and her hand goes up to where Helena's is gripped and rests lightly on top of it, and Helena is glad, so glad Myka made absolutely sure she wouldn't be due in May or July even though Helena told her she was being silly, that of course she'd be fine no matter when their baby was born. She was wrong, she is not fine; she will never be fine, not today.

 

"She should be here." Helena is completely still, having consciously relaxed her fingers again.

"She should."

"It's not fair."

"No. It'll never be fair."

Myka's child - their child - Helena's child - kicks against her fingers then and Helena's eyes blur and she snaps them shut and thinks what a horrible mistake she's made, letting her heart back out into the world like this.

 

Helena makes the cake that year.

***

No – Helena was wrong – the hardest year is the next year, when Rosalind wakes first, just a little and makes that endearing snuffling sound of waking babies and for one, just one moment Helena forgets.

Then it slams back into fresh horror for both children, the dead and the living, for her lost daughter and the daughter right here, right next to her where Myka fell asleep half-sitting up nursing her in her arms. Helena waits until her breathing comes steady before she moves, before she lays one finger gently against the baby's cheek. Before she dresses in the darkness and leaves for the day, apologizing to both of them in her mind.

 

When she comes home, far too late, there’s half an almond cake in the kitchen, and a note, in Myka’s neat cursive.

We all sang to her. Don’t worry. We love you.

***

When Rose is seven, she and Helena make the cake together. The new guy comes in as Rose is licking the bowl out, sees balloons (Rose has her own ideas about birthdays) and asks, innocently:

"Is there a special occasion?"

"Oh yes. It's my sister's birthday." Rose runs the spatula the length of the bowl, gathering up the last bits of batter.

"I didn’t know you had a sister. Is she coming by later, then?"

Helena stops in her tracks facing away from them, puts her hands on the counter and breathes unevenly, but Rose just smiles and replies,

"No. She's dead.” Seeing his stricken face, she continues, “But it’s ok. We love her a whole lot, so today we have a party for her. Would you like to come?"

 

He begs off, but the old guard is all there, even Artie, for tea and cake later.

***

The voice on speakerphone is tinny, as Myka searches for a parking spot and Helena holds up the phone between them. “Mum. Mama. Really. You don’t have to come. I know it’s…”

“And you, my darling, didn’t need to call again about this. We’re already here, we’re not going to get back on the plane without seeing you. And don’t you have more important things to be doing right now?” Helena rolls her eyes at Myka, who smirks and then crows softly in triumph, pulling in and turning the key off.

“Not actually. Graduation is turning out to mostly be standing around. It’s just a bit of paper, really, you don’t -”

“Sweetheart, we wouldn’t miss this day for the world. Your sister would be so proud. We’ll be there embarrassing you just like everyone else’s mums, so don’t think you can get out of it that easily.”

 

There’s a whole contingent, of course, already waiting. Pete moves his coat off the seats he saved and Myka and Helena slide gratefully by Claudia and Steve. Claudia rolls Helena into a one-armed hug that she only resists for a fraction of a second before she smiles and sinks her head into Claudia’s shoulder.

Pete pokes Myka. “Hey lady. Are we doing it now, or after?”

Myka looks over at Helena, who shrugs and says, “Now. Later will be a celebration of another kind.”

Myka nods and passes a Tupperware down to Steve, who grabs a cupcake and passes it down the line, all the way to Artie.

“Ready?”

Helena nods.

 

A row ahead of them is a little girl, about nine, blond, kicking her legs in boredom against the seat ahead of her despite her father’s admonitions. She turns around at the familiar song, twists her head in puzzlement at six faces in various states of grief and joy, one woman at the center who’s crying openly and singing louder than anyone else.

She doesn’t mean to catch the woman’s eye but she does, and that woman smiles at her and finishes the song, then swallows and calls to an older man at the end a question as everyone else clinks cupcakes as if they were fancy drinks.

 

“It’s my daughter’s birthday,” Helena says, smiling, receiving back and holding out the container down to her. “Would you like to celebrate with us?”