JUNE 12th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 11.30 local time
Louise carefully glanced to her left, where Eleanor was sitting behind the wheel. Her eyes were focused on the road. Her lips were curled up into a subtle smile. A black cap and thin-framed glasses made her almost unrecognizable.
Louise figured that’s precisely what Eleanor wanted to be: unrecognizable. She was taking a significant risk going out on her own after all. Louise shook her head in disbelief and stared out of the window again.
After announcing she wanted to leave without Hobbs, Louise had agreed to wait a few hours until the rain would pass and it would become clear where there was any flooding.
With Hobbs knocked out and the rain battering against the windows, she had seen no point in insisting on leaving straight away. She had retired to her room instead. Lying on her bed, she spent 3 long hours not trying to think about that kiss.
As soon as it had stopped raining, around 10.15, she had hurried downstairs, picked up her gear and headed for the car. She had been relieved to get going. She needed a distraction from the conversation with Eleanor that kept playing on repeat inside her head.
Downstairs, Eleanor had surprised Louise by walking out of the residence, announcing she was ready to go, wearing the cap and glasses. Woodward hadn’t been anywhere in sight.
“He’s not coming,” Eleanor had stated, when she saw Louise kept glancing at the door.
Louise was still too hurt to want to have an actual conversation with Eleanor. That’s why she had just shrugged, picked up her gear and followed Eleanor to the car. Her mind had still been scrambling to understand, of course.
What the hell was going on? Why had Eleanor left Woodward behind? Not that she planned on asking Eleanor about it. No way. She’d rather get food poisoning. “Just ignore her. Act like you’re a-okay,” she kept telling herself.
Unfortunately, Eleanor was ignoring her too. Louise hadn’t even caught her glance in her direction. Not once. Now, an hour later, Louise felt torn between staying silent and finding out what was going on.
She would much prefer it if El spoke up first, though. Why wasn’t she saying anything? There sure was plenty to talk about. Plus, she had no right to ignore Louise! She had been the deceitful one after all!
But Eleanor just kept her focus on the road with that tiny, mocking smile on her lips. Louise couldn’t take it anymore. “Why are you smiling?” she blurted out.
Eleanor sucked in her lips but stayed quiet. Louise shifted in her seat impatiently. She hated that she had caved first, but she still wanted a response.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?” she added, trying to hide her frustration. She wasn’t very successful at it.
El shot her a look, then focused back on the road. “It’s not like you believe anything I say.”
Louise slowly closed her mouth, stunned by El’s harsh reply. She rubbed her hands over her slacks. She couldn’t deny the truth of the statement, of course. She had accused El of lying about pretty much everything only a few hours ago.
She was briefly tempted to apologize even though she had absolutely no reason to. She listed the facts in her mind. El had tried to seduce her. Or at least had tried to distract her. She was a calculated and manipulative woman. The enemy.
The enemy who had kissed her. An unwelcome wave of desire washed over her, again. The vivid memory of El’s lips on hers resurfaced. She imagined those lips on her neck, her shoulders. She shifted in her seat again, sure she was blushing now.
El didn’t seem to notice, though. When Louise stole another glance, El was staring straight ahead with that annoying smile again. It made Louise want to pull her hair out.
“How much longer?” she asked.
“30 minutes, I think,” El replied matter of factly.
“How long would it have been without the flooding?
“30 minutes. Long detour.”
Louise frowned. El clearly wasn’t planning on keeping the conversation going. Louise was really fed up with the silence, though.
“Can you put on some music? she asked.
El snorted. “Eh, no.”
Louise turned to El, her back to the door.
“Is music another thing that’s not allowed here?” she asked dryly.
El grinned. Not the response Louise had expected or wanted.
“No,” El said, pointing at the console, “All you’ll hear is information about the storm.”
Louise looked out of the window again. They were driving through one of the many suburbs. She still hadn’t gotten used to the colorful houses. All of them had a stairway with about 10 steps leading to the front door, she saw.
“Is that for the flooding?” she asked.
”Yeah, among other things.”
Louise sighed in frustration. “Are you going to use as few words as possible for the rest of the day?”
El steered the car onto a wider road that looked like it would lead them out of the city.
“You said you weren’t interested in how things work around here.”
Louise knew she was rekindling their earlier fight on purpose but was still unable to stop herself.
“Like I said, you can’t talk to me like I’m some friend.”
El laughed softly. “I definitely do not consider you a friend. Don’t worry.”
Surprisingly, El’s reply hurt Louise’s feelings. She pursed her lips while she tried to take stock of why her chest felt so damn tight all of a sudden. After a few moments, she leaned back, staring at her hands.
“Rick and I are not a couple,” El said out of the blue.
Louise looked at her out of the corner of her eye.
“We’ve been really good friends for over 20 years. That’s all,” El added.
Louise wanted to believe her. She had every reason not to, though.
“And I’m divorced, by the way,” El sighed.
Louise’s head snapped to the side, her eyes wide, searching El’s face. “W-what?” she stammered.
El giggled. “Your report on me wasn’t very complete, was it?”
Louise was too dumbfounded to do anything else than respond truthfully. “I guess not,” she said, tucking an unruly strand of hair behind her ear.
“Viv and I got married when I was only 21,” El explained with a smile.
“Viv? As in a woman?!” Louise wondered.
“God, I adored her,” El continued.
“Definitely a woman. Well, I’ll be damned,” Louise thought.
She couldn’t help but feel relieved. Giddy even. Then she reminded herself El might be lying again. Being suspicious all the time was starting to wear her out, though. She had to admit: El did sound sincere.
“I was so young and naive. Blind, really,” El said.
An image of Michelle popped up in Louise’s head. She cleared her throat. ”Yeah, I get that.”
El glanced at her. “Really? Got some tragic love story yourself?” she asked playfully.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Louise answered evasively. She had already said too much. Louise rarely told anyone about Michelle. She definitely wasn’t going to tell El. Michelle would kill her if she found out.
“I guess,” El replied.
Louise was trying to wrap her head around this new revelation. If it was true, her gaydar hadn’t betrayed her after all. She turned her head away to hide her grin. She allowed herself this moment of victory.
After a few seconds, she made herself focus on more important things. This was yet another fact that had been missing from the intel. She was starting to wonder what the intelligence by the unknown source was worth, really.
Maybe she could try to find out more. She desperately needed to know if El was lying or not. Louise bit her lower lip, debating her next question.
“When was the divorce?”
El took a moment to reply. “4 years back.”
Louise studied El’s face. It was hard to read her eyes with that cap and those glasses on. “That’s not that long ago.”
El shook her head slowly, seeming a bit sad. “Nope. About a year after I went into politics.”
“You mean she didn’t want you to?” Louise asked.
El nodded. “She hated it. Blamed my aunt for talking me into it.”
“Oh,” Louise said in surprise. “Did she?”
“Did she what?”
“Talk you into it? Your aunt?”
El laughed. “Of course she did!”
Louise chuckled too. She couldn’t imagine El was lying right now. She looked so relaxed and beautiful. Louise needed to press on, though. She wanted to find out even more. But El beat her to it.
“Rick always hated Viv. I knew him way back before I met her. He warned me from the start. He’s very protective like that.”
“Why isn’t he with us then?” Louise asked.
El smiled. “He doesn’t like you either.”
Louise tilted her head, not sure if she was insulted or intrigued.
“I love him dearly, but I really needed a moment away from everything and everyone,” El continued.
Louise quirked an eyebrow. “But you’re with me.”
El nodded slowly. “I know.”
And then the silence was back. Louise was no longer uncomfortable, though. She leaned back in her chair and smiled. She wished this drive would take forever. She was perfectly content sitting here next to El.
It didn’t take her long to think of their kiss again. Louise was tempted to touch her own lips, which were tingling. “If she’s not together with Rick, and she likes being around me… Was the kiss real?” she wondered.
What had El said right after it? She tried to remember. “It’s a surprise for me too.” Louise repeated the words in her mind a few times. What if El had been honest? What if she had kissed Louise just because she wanted to?
“Oh God,” Louise thought. She had been so focused on herself, she hadn’t considered the risks El might be taking. What would her people say if they found out? What would Woodward say? Did he already know? Had they had a fight about it?
“What are you thinking about?” El asked.
Louise sat up in alarm. She wanted to say “nothing,” but knew it might ruin this new companionship. She had to say something. She surprised even herself with what she chose to say next, though.
“I was wondering if you always call Woodward, or Rick, ‘honey’…”
El threw her head back, letting out a good belly laugh. “I don’t,” she admitted.
“Then why…?” Louise asked quietly.
El took in a deep breath before she spoke. “I guess I had an inkling you believed we were a couple.”
“It’s silly,” El added with a shy shrug. “But I guess I wanted to make you jealous.”