There’s a rule.
There are many things people call rules, where Harriet works. Don’t kill; don’t forget; don’t be obvious. But they’re all guidelines. Any book in which they’re written has without a good reason written after in white ink and in a very small font. Any conversation where such a rule is spoken, without a good reason hangs unspoken between the interlocutors’ eyes.
But there is a rule, one rule, for those who guard what needs guarding. One who knows each world, and knows enough to know that (nearly) everything is worth protecting.
The rule is simple: Never get attached.
The rule is simple, except when it isn’t.
She reached her hand through the hole in the wooden fence. Her hand met another hand, very smooth, smoother than the day before. Manicured, Harriet guessed.
“Hello, lovely.” Neither knew the other’s name, the other’s face—safer that way hangs in the air, between every word they speak—but Harriet knows this woman well enough to know her lovely. “Relaxing day?”
The other woman’s hand shifted in a way that meant a smile. “Yes. Beautiful day at the spa. You’d’ve hated it.”
Harriet laughed. The other woman could get Harriet to laugh; that would be enough to earn lovely on its own.
They spoke for longer, of many things. The evening was beautiful, as long as it lasted. Their date night always one of challenges and achievements and wonder and lips brushing gently over knuckles.
Harriet broke first, as she always did, when she stopped thinking, What a bright mind; what a lovely voice, what expressive hands, and started thinking, A woman with exactly this shade of skin, with enough money to pay for a spa day, but at a job that lets her hands run as rough as she feels like, that needs neither calluses for practicality nor smooth skin for perfect appearance—
Harriet stood, suddenly. “I should go.” She said that a little differently each time, but their last words, never spoken, were always the same.
I’m sorry. I can’t figure out who you are. If they ask, I can’t know you well enough to answer.