Calls in the middle of the night were never good things. Despite working in high finance and organizing teams around the world and in all time zones, Anna still knew that calls which came in the dead of night were never ones that were enjoyable to receive.
In the best case scenario, someone had simply forgotten about the fact that the time in London was not the same as the time in San Diego and “Oh, I’m so sorry! Did I wake you?”
As often as not the answer was “no, you didn’t wake me”, but that didn’t mean Anna necessarily enjoyed being interrupted from what she’d been involved in doing.
“Another crisis?” Zoe asked, her breath slowing as Anna scowled and unlocked her cell phone.
“Probably,” Anna said, punching in the access code and picking up the call. There were many people she would have let pass to voicemail. Tam however was not one of them.
Anna found Zoe in the kitchen brewing up a pot of particularly strong coffee a few minutes later.
“It’s not a substitute for sleep, but I hate facing a crisis half asleep,” Zoe said, gesturing to the cups she’d placed out for the two of them.
“Thank you,” Anna said, sliding into her seat at the small counter that separated the kitchen from the living room.
“So how dire is it this time?” Zoe asked, filling first Anna’s mug then her own.
“Not terribly it seems,” Anna said. “Certainly not anything Earth ending like we’ve been dealing with. We have a visitor to expect though.”
“Please tell me Santa is not literally stopping by.”
“No, though you’re not far wrong. Apparently Val has been visited by a Ghost of Christmas Past, and Tam is entertaining a Ghost of Christmas Present.”
“You’re not kidding are you.”
“With the things we’ve seen, does it seem like I would be.”
“I think I would have preferred Santa Claus,” Zoe said and passed Anna the cream and sugar.
Anna chuckled and sipped from her coffee without contaminating it with either of the offered items.
“And which list would you be on?” she asked.
“I’ve been trying to make sure I was on the Naughty list, but midnight calls are making that difficult,” Zoe said with a playful smile and a hint of regret of her eyes.
“We’ll have to see what our Ghost of Christmas Future can offer us in that regards,” Anna said, relaxing into her chair.
The coffee’s warmth was relaxing, though thoughts of what a ghost of the future might hold for her brought a long familiar troop of concerns to mind.
“It’s funny, for all the planning I do, I don’t really like looking at the future,” Zoe said. She was leaning on the counter, hands wrapped around the coffee mug to absorb the heat that her bare feet had lost to the kitchen tiles.
“You have plans for yourself though don’t you?” Anna asked. “Where do you see yourself in five years, and that sort of thing?”
“In a professional sense, sure,” Zoe said. “As we’ve seen though, those can go rather astray.”
“I can’t say I’m unhappy with that,” Anna said. “I rather like where you’ve found yourself straying to these days.”
“I do too,” Zoe said. “This life, being with you, it’s not at all what I imagined I’d be doing, but I think it’s so much closer to what I wanted than where I was heading.”
“You’re a better planner than you realize, I think,” Anna said.
“I should hope so,” Zoe said, her smile growing sharp. “After our first struggle, I began to think I was absolutely terrible.”
“And now?” Anna asked.
“Exceptional with room for improvement? That seems about as kind as I can be.”
“You’re more kind than you realize too, but ‘room for improvement’ is a good thing for all of us to remember, so I’ll grant you that,” Anna said.
“How about you?” Zoe asked. “Can you see what you want the future to be?”
Anna took another sip of her coffee to organize her thoughts.
“Only in broad strokes,” she said. “Happiness for you my family, and my friends. Those are the stars I navigate by, but like stars you have to look at more than just the points of light in the sky. I’ve learned that what happens people far removed from me and mine can still have an impact on the ones who are closest to me.”
“That’s why you’re helping the refugees isn’t it?” Zoe asked. “You’re making everyone a part of your family effectively.”
“Not quite my family, but perhaps my world,” Anna said. “I’ve seen what unchecked tyranny can do. It seeps out and corrupts even parts of the world that aren’t under the tyrant’s control. Love can spread, but the same is true of hatred and fear.”
“I can see that,” Zoe said. “And I can see where that could be a powerful motivation.”
“But it’s not yours, is it?” Anna asked.
“No. I’m glad you’re there to help the refugees, but for me the real thrill of this is taking on people and organizations who think they’re untouchably powerful and still feel the need to misuse that power,” Zoe said, glancing down at her drink. “So, earlier versions of myself, I guess.”
“I’m not sure that’s quite accurate,” Anna said.
“Oh, trust me, I’ve been ruthless,” Zoe said. “When I worked for Prima Lux, I destroyed any number of people who got between me and something I wanted.”
“As someone who was in the line to be destroyed, I have no problem believing you,” Anna said. “But your misuses of power aren’t quite the same as someone like the Chief Law Binder we’ve had to deal with. For you, there was a goal, and there were obstacles to that goal, and you did what was necessary to remove those obstacles, without much regard for the damage the obstacles suffered.”
“Yes. Even when the damage was horrific.”
“And that bothers you now.”
“But it didn’t then.”
“Perhaps not,” Anna said. “But it also wasn’t your end goal, or desire.”
“I don’t think that made much difference to people whose lives were destroyed.”
“And those are the sins we must carry, and make what amends we can for,” Anna said. “Or did you think I wasn’t guilty of the same things in my heyday?”
“The same as what I did? I doubt it.” Zoe said.
“Do you think as a woman and a mother, I was able to continue moving up in influence and power among the elite without crushing those who had what I wanted? Or do you think that there wasn’t collateral damage when I destroyed someone who was above me? Or who’d simply been obnoxious? I may not regret all of the choices I made then – some of those people deserved the destruction they received – but that doesn’t mean I don’t regret the damage I did.”
“So you’re saying we’re both on the Naughty List?” Zoe asked with a smile.
“Well, yes, but that’s more by design than accident.” Anna said, hiding her smile with her coffee cup.
“Our ghost isn’t likely to confront us with our past though, are they?” Zoe asked.
“Not if Dicken’s story is to be believed.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about a trip to a graveyard to see my own tombstone.” Zoe frowned and wiggled her toes. “I’m not exactly dressed for it either.”
“My guess is that the ghost wouldn’t show us an image we’d be expecting,” Anna said. “In the story, Scrooge was shown how the world didn’t miss him when he was gone, and then confronted with a reality he’d been refusing to consider – that his life did have and end and that all that would linger beyond it would be his legacy.”
“I don’t know what sort of legacy I would leave at this point,” Zoe said. “I don’t know if my scales can ever be balanced.”
“I don’t think they can be,” Anna said. “Or mine. Or anyone else’s. It’s not as though doing one good deed can cancel out doing a bad one. I think what we leave behind is much more complex than that. Like children. Good? Bad? You don’t sum them up like that. You take them as they are and appreciate what each one has to offer.”
Zoe gave a short laugh.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” she said. “Of all the things you’ve done, the one that seems the most impossible to me was having kids.”
“Did you ever want ones for yourself?” Anna asked.
“I don’t think so,” Zoe said. “I know I’m supposed to say that I had to fight to put aside my maternal instinct in order to get ahead, but I think that was a part of me that didn’t get installed early on.”
“It’s not as uncommon as you might think,” Anna said. “I’ve met so many different kinds of women. Mothers who never expected to have kids and discovered that their children filled their lives. Mothers who felt broken for not feeling that bond with their children. Women without children who knew they never wanted one and women without children who would have given anything to have one of their own. Foster mothers, adoptive mothers. I think for all the possible variations out there for how to be a woman there must be millions of people who fit each niche.”
“There are definitely variations that are less accepted than others though,” Zoe said. “I remember explaining to my grandmother that I wasn’t going to have kids. You’d think I’d burned all the babies I was supposed to have right in front of her.”
“I wish I could have lent you my grandmother,” Anna said. “When I told her I was never going to have children, she said ‘good for you, you do what you want, with whoever you want, and you don’t let anyone give you any trouble about it’. Then two years later I showed her her first great granddaughter, and she loved me for that too.”
“You’ve had a blessed life, haven’t you?”
“In many ways, yes,” Anna said, and reached across the counter. “Including the people I’ve been able to spend it with.”
Zoe laughed. “And then there’s me. I must be part of paying back you’re corporate karmic burden right?”
Anna rolled her eyes and got up from her seat. At Zoe’s questioning look, she simply smiled and moved around the end of the counter.
Zoe’s eyebrow raised a bit further as Anna leaned in for a kiss and then, without any particular warning, hoisted Zoe out of her chair.
Suspended in Anna’s arms in the classic bridal carry pose, Zoe let out an unabashed laugh.
“You don’t seem to be much of a burden to me,” Anna said, lifting Zoe up and down like she was in the middle of a bicep workout routine.
On one of the lifts, Zoe reached out her arms and placed them around Anna’s neck, drawing her in close for the offered kiss.
“We’re supposed to be too old for this you know,” she said.
“So long as I am not too old for you, we do not need to be too old for anything,” Anna said, and gave Zoe a nuzzling kiss on the neck.
“Perhaps we should get back to bed then?” Zoe asked.
“That is most tempting,” Anna said. “Except, weren’t we expecting a visitor?”
She put Zoe down so they could both stand and look around their apartment.
“We were,” Zoe said. “Did we chase them off?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Anna said. “I had Tam put in some extra security for us. If a ghost had shown up, we should have heard their arrival.”
“Maybe the security kept them out?” Zoe asked.
“It didn’t keep out Tam’s Ghost of Christmas Present.”
“What about Val’s ghost?” Zoe asked.
“Val didn’t have the same security setup. She has Aranea.”
“Then that opens a disturbing quesiton,” Zoe said.
“Yes,” Anna agreed. “What’s happened to our future?”