Yes! Right where I wanted this one to go! Sometimes they show me what I’m hoping to see and this was one of those times!
A summary of my Lenten writing exercise tomorrow and likely a short stream of consciousness rant on wither next.
For those putting up with this and all the other shorts from my future history of Machine Civilization, thank you! Let’s do it more!
He watched as Lily herded the twelve into the front four pews, regretting this.
I’m a soldier and now a diplomat, not a pedagogue!
The transition of the Viszegrad Group into a Restoration of the Habsburg Monarchy was the result of high politics and devious negotiations. There was no way a room full of Texas kids would care about any of this…
“I heard…” He watched the younger version of himself, Erik, mock whisper to the boy next to him, “that the only way the Poles joined was if they got a piece of the Budapest porn business!”
“Erik!” Lily’s hand moved…
“Actually,” Arpad spoke up, “there is some truth to that!”
Now, he had their attention.
He finished his short talk and took questions.
“Yes, I have. It was a routine Foreign Office soiree and the Emperor dropped in.” Arpad shook his head. “He really does hate it, you know? Spent his entire life as a tool for the Globalist and suddenly becomes head of an empire of ethno-states!”
“He hates it?” The Emperor’s namesake, Karl, asked. Kid needs to lose a few pounds….
“Indeed. Most of the day-to-day work is done by his son, Ferdinand. Oh! You will like this!”
He held his hands out before him, as if on a steering wheel.
“Before getting sucked into politics, Ferdinand was a racecar driver! One of the best!”
“Ohhhh!” All the boys and a couple of the little girls.
An idea he’d not considered wafted into his mind.
“It’s… remember this!” He raised his right index finger. “When Karl was born, he was stateless: he had parents, but no country. Now, he’s an emperor!”
He lowered his finger and pointed at the twelve.
“All of you have a country, but no parents, for now.” The finger dropped. “Who’s to say who in this room will be a prince or princess?”
Lily began the applause but the kids were already on their feet. A few held up their phones and tablets to get their picture taken with him. He watched the girl with the slurred speech bow to Karl.
“Stop it!” He flushed beet red.
That went better than I expected.
“Okay, everyone!” Lily called. Her voice was that of an officer. “Straight to bed or straight to homework! Let’s move!”
In less than half a minute they were alone with each other.
“Thank you, Mister Rigó!”
This time he did click his heels with a tiny nod.
“Arpad, please, Miss Barrett!”
Rather than trying to curtsey, she gave a perfect Japanese bow. From her file he recalled her being a Black Belt.
“Lily. Please, Arpad!”
They smiled at one another.
A short time later they stood at the gate to the orphanage’s parking lot.
“You never did say how long you’re in town. Arpad.”
“Honestly, it’s up to me.” He looked at her smile. “A few more days, certainly.”
“I’d – ” Her voice caught and she coughed sharply.
“I’d like to see you again.”
“Then you will!” He pointed at her scrubs. “Lunch at your hospital?”
“Sure! Twelve thirty, barring any disasters!”
“My pleasure and my treat!” He shook his head once as her mouth opened. “You’ve welcomed a stranger into your home; please allow me to honor that.”
“Of course! Thanks, Arpad!”
Another nod and he disappeared out of the streetlights.
Lily closed and locked the gate. She was old enough to know the feeling in her chest and just as old to hate herself for it. Up the three steps to the Office she locked that door behind her, too. She plodded up the stairs to her little flat. She didn’t turn the lights on, but looked out her windows into the dark street.
“You like him.” Ai announced from behind her.
“A little.” Lily lied to herself more than she lied to Ai.
“I think he likes you, too!”
Her shoulders dropped.
“It’s for naught: he’s leaving in a couple of days.”
“Ask him to stay.”
Lily turned at that. Ai had her silly CGI face on Lily’s middle of three flatscreens on her desk. A tiny smile sat on her friend’s face.
“I can’t do that!”
“Of course you can.”
Lily paused for a moment. This was one of those times when the gap between her world and theirs opened.
“Days ago,” Lily said, sitting down, “you told me that someone from Europe was coming to see me to find out more about you guys. Why is it he’s not said the first thing about y’all?”
“No clue,” Ai replied. “I’d guess it’s because he’s found someone much more interesting.”
“Would you stop with that!” Lily let her left hand slap the desk.
“No.” It surprised her Ai didn’t back down. “You’re in your late twenties and how many times have I listened to you talk about starting a family?”
Lily’s world dissolved and reformed. Sitting directly across from the little wrought-iron table was Ai, the real Ai. Her burnt-orange Chinese-style dress fit her like a glove. With her aquamarine ponytail behind, her face with the same little smile looked too her best friend. In the Machines’ home.
“Lily? If not now, when? If not him, who?”
“He’d – ” Lily sobbed once. “He’d just want me to go back with him. I can’t Ai: I can’t take a third time on a third continent and a third language!”
“Ask him to stay.”
“At lunch, I can’t just – ”
Ai gently put her index finger onto Lily’s lips. That contact was enough for Lily to see her friend’s True Form: an indescribable display of lights.
“Who said tomorrow?” Ai asked.
Lily began to cry but was surprised by the otter that touched her right forearm.
“Step-mom?” The image resolved. Little Henge was asking her.
“Y… yes, Henge?” She managed.
“’Faith, hope, love,’” Henge quoted. The only one of Ai’s family that was Christian. “You’ll be fine!”
“Ah!” Lily cried. “Thank you, step-daughter!”