With each new person I saw Sept with, I discovered something about him. Xirra brought out his passion for the cause. She came to see us a few days after Whisper and Emmanuel’s visit.
We heard a whirring noise as lights shone in the front yard.
“Xirra’s here!” Sept said and ran outside.
She wore a gravity suit much like Sept’s. She didn’t look much like him, though, aside from the pointed ears. She wasn’t moon blue and lithe. She was indigo, like Octy, and she had a full body like mine. Somehow, that helped me warm up to her more quickly.
“Come, byu!” she said when she saw me, and she wrapped me in warm hug. “So you are the Mallory!”
“And you’re the Xirra!” I said. “Are you really Situ’s sister? And Octy’s mom?”
“I am, indeed!” she said. “And I’ll be your friend, if you’ll let me.”
She wrapped me a warm hug, and I felt that we’d been friends forever.
Xirra has always been impossible for me to resist. Anything she asks, I’ll do for her. It’s her smile. She fills me with confidence that I am stronger than I know, more capable than I realize, and braver than I ever thought possible–all because she is all of those things and she not only makes it look easy, she makes it look natural.
We went inside and I dished us up some of Sept’s chili for supper.
“I’ll take two bowls,” Xirra said. “And don’t skimp on the grated cheddar and sour cream! The dairy products on this planet make every trip worthwhile!”
“Sept tells me you’re engaged” Xirra said. “It’s a quaint custom, marriage. We don’t have anything like it, of course. But we approve, as long as it’s based on love.”
“Oh, this is based on love, all right,” Sept said.
“I know,” said Xirra. “I can feel it. Your home is drenched in the chemicals of love!”
We’d progressed by then to the cozy cocktail of oxytocin, and I, for one, felt glad to take a temporary break from the heady buzz of dopamine, norepeninephrine, and serotonin.
“We’ve been kind of high on love,” Sept admitted. “In fact, I’m craving another fix now!”
I giggled. “Easy does it, love-junkie! We’re going to need our own 12-Step program if we’re not careful!”
“When is the wedding?” Xirra asked.
“We haven’t set a date yet,” I admitted. We’d identified a few obstacles. When we drew up the guest list, everyone, except for my room-mate in college, who wouldn’t be able to attend anyway, since she was getting a doctorate oversees, was friend or family of Sept. I didn’t mind. The marriage would escort me into his family, and I pretended that it didn’t bother me that, in doing so, my own family rejected me. But it bothered Sept. “There must be someone,” he said. “It feels so inequitable this way.”
My main obstacle was Sebastion’s reaction to expressions of romance. “It’s my wedding!” I explained to Sept. “I want to be able to kiss my own groom at my wedding! How can I not?”
“Then do!” he said. “Pops will deal.”
But I didn’t want his father to feel anxious or uncomfortable, and I certainly didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of a public reprimand again, especially in a wedding dress.
“You had better not wait!” Xirra said. “We’ve got things happening soon. The best course of action is to get married straight away!”
“What’s the timing?” Sept asked her.
“It all depends. Look. There’s so much to transmit. Let me just upload it to you. It will be quicker.”
She began to concentrate, and Sept jerked as if he’d been plugged into a socket. I asked him later what he felt like.
“Overload,” he said. “Too much input. It comes in so fast, and I don’t have a chance to process it all. It will take days, maybe weeks, before I get it all sorted, collated, and stored away. Forgive me if I’m a bit distracted or absent-minded until then.”
The data he was able to process immediately pleased him.
“Xirra,” he said. “It’s really happening then! You’ve set the plan in motion!”
“What is this, Sept?” I asked him.
“Xirra’s in command. It’s part of the resistance, for slaves and refugees who need sanctuary. That’s where you and I come in.”
“Sept!” I said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to be part of this!”
The idea of being part of whatever this was terrified me. This was supposed to be our “getting-to-know-each-other” stage of our romantic life, not our “comrades-in-the-resistance” stage. I was in no way ready to begin making sacrifices for something I, at that time, knew basically nothing about.
Xirra just sat there, smiling, while Sept and I launched into our first argument.
Sept and I have had one argument during our entire life together, and we’ve had that argument hundreds of times. We still have it, on occasion, but we’ve learned to navigate our way through it.
The argument hinges on our different ideas about commitment and what we’re willing to be committed to. I’ve always been willing to commit to Septemus, our family, any critters that live with us, and our home. But this commitment is conditional: My first commitment has always been to myself and my freedom–and if any other commitment gets in the way of that, I’m willing to let it go.
Septemus’s first and main commitment has been to the rebellion. Every other commitment must support that, and if it doesn’t, he’s willing to let it go.
That night, the first time we faced this together, it felt like the end.
“Mallory!” he said tensely, “the rebellion does not wait on you! You need to be ready whenever you are asked to step in!”
“I don’t even know what the rebellion is for!” I said. “How can I support something I know nothing about?”
Xirra just smiled as if we were exchanging endearments.
“You know me,” Sept said. “If you trust me, that should be enough.”
“I’m not sure I do know you, Sept,” I said.
Xirra chuckled. “There are all sorts of ways of knowing!” she said.
I left. I went upstairs to see if I could lose myself in a book. I don’t remember what I did upstairs that night, but if it was anything like the other times we had that argument the first year, I threw the book aside, flung myself on the bed, and cried.
Sept’s frustration always dissipated quickly. Like I said, his commitment to the rebellion was first and foremost to him, so why would he waste emotional energy at every ripple that happened in our relationship?
From our loft, I heard him and Xirra chatting cheerfully, enthusiastically. I couldn’t understand a word they said. They were speaking Vingihoplo, and I felt very much alone.