The first inserts were painful and you couldn’t control what went where, but now they are comfortable and you can set up directories any way you want as long as your layers are sequential. So you can bury shame in your dark layer and not feel it anymore, but hurts coming later stay hurtful. Of course, you can bury every pain, but then you have only your present to live in.
Kelly and Pat have been sharing for weeks, months even, but not secrets. They’ve had many discussions about if, when, and whether to share their secrets, but always one or the other has backed out. Pat fears losing Kelly, and Kelly fears knowing Pat and being disappointed. These are fears from her past relationships.
Pat has opened layers before, though she’s only once shared secrets. It seems the more openness Pat offers, the sooner her relationships end, and she loves Kelly. She thought she had loved before, but now with Kelly she knows she hasn’t.
Kelly has never shared her secrets. Her experiences have all been the mutual opening of layers with partners until disappointment sets in. As she gets to know them they like her more and she likes them less. The thought of seeing Pat as less than she thinks her to be depresses her. And so they’ve kept their secrets hidden from one another.
Someone will have to break the ice, Kelly thinks. Maybe she should…there is that word, again, should. She can’t abide it. Accessing her first two layers just above her secret darkness, she ponders all the shoulds of her childhood. She feels them reach out to constrain her, control her, and she shudders. Maybe she ought to put another one or two of those early layers into darkness so no more pain can come from them. But there are good memories in those layers, too, memories she doesn’t want to lose. Of Grams and Gramps. And of mom and dad, too…mostly good ones. But back to Pat—staying on layer one with her will soon thin out. They both know that.
Pat snaps off a capture of their day, just as she has been doing every evening from almost the beginning. Kelly will be furious when she finds out Pat’s been storing their times together in a private layer. Pat needs a way out: Could she maybe share her recordings with Kelly, would Kelly like that? No, they are all from Pat’s perspective, none from Kelly’s. But maybe Kelly could start too, and they could compile a joint layer? Maybe, but how could Pat explain all the ones she’s already made?
Pat has been so long in layers she’s forgotten her non-layered existence. She has only impressions of those early years. But she knows if she shares secrets with Kelly, Kelly will get them all fresh. And how can she explain the dark parts to Kelly when she hardly remembers them? Except she knows she’s done some terrible thing. Or maybe she’s in some way a bad person. She isn’t sure, but—is there something about her that’s disagreeable…or even worse? That’s it. She’s sure. Fairly sure. But what if Kelly should forgive her flaw, overlook it, or doesn’t think it’s important…or even a flaw? Then she’d be free to love Kelly and be loved back, a full sharing. What would that be like? Maybe joy all the time, or maybe calm and not afraid. Maybe a life of two becoming almost one instead of being alone all the time. Could she be accepted just as she is by Kelly…and even by herself? Maybe all these things. Maybe even more?
Kelly senses Pat is knotted up, and even though they are only sharing in layer one she knows what it’s about. “Let’s do it,” she thinks to Pat. “A layer at a time?” Pat asks. “No,” Kelly insists. “One of us would chicken out, and then there’d be no secret sharing for us. Ever.”
“So you’ll do it?” Kelly asks, anxious now and feeling like backing out. “Next week,” responds Pat. “Or maybe the week after.”
“No,” Kelly insists, suddenly determined. She reaches over and tweaks Pat. Their worlds begin to change. The layers below One start to combine. Astounding colors, unmerciful, weird, beautiful. All their layers joining. Or disappearing.
Grass underfoot. Birdsong, a gentle breeze. A knowing. No disappointment. Full acceptance. All their wounds shared, understood, grieved together.
“It’s early summer,” Pat shouts, a little too loud for Kelly. She doesn’t mind. A whole summer sounds just right to her.
It’s turning cold as the sun goes down. We aren’t dressed for this. We’re clinging together, but it’s not enough.
“Where should we go?” Kelly is asking.
“How should I know. You brought us here.” That brings a stare that matches the temperature.
“Look,” I say, “let’s not argue and spoil the mood.” She turns her back to me. “What mood.”
Kelly, don’t sulk. I think it, but I don’t say it. Kelly doesn’t react because we’ve turned off our implants. The crickets are starting up, making a racket that’s louder than I remember.
“One good thing.” I think I am thinking this, wishing there was one good thing going on right now. But I said it. “What’s that?” Kelly asks. Scrambling, I grab onto a memory not accessed in god only knows how long. “You can tell the temperature by how fast the crickets are chirping.”
“Well, you count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and then you add on thirty-fiv… Wait, you don’t really want to know, do you?”
“It’s just as cold when you know,” Kelly says.
Damn, this is turning out like all the other times. I thought Pat would be different. Well, we aren’t far from Gram’s house. I wonder if I should tell Pat, or let her suffer in the cold a little longer? The cold decides it for me.
“Kelly! Come in, come in. Gramps is out back chopping wood.”
It’s so good to see Kelly. She hardly ever comes by, now that she’s gotten older. I shut the front door and run into the kitchen to fetch some hot tea. “Who’s your friend, Kelly?” She doesn’t answer, but I hear them pulling chairs over to the fire. Good, that’ll warm them up. When I come back in I see them sitting apart, a table and an empty chair between them. Like the Shorts next door. Never seen those two even holding hands. Strange they’re still together. Maybe it’s that inertia thing people talk about. Speaking of which, these two are staring at me standing stock still and holding a tray.
I see Kelly look over to Pat and get a tiny shake of her head back. Well, I’ll find out later. But it’s sooner. “Grams, put your tray down and come sit here between us. This is Pat, and Pat, this is Grams. I know you’re wondering about us, Grams. Pat and I are on layer one. We’ve just met up, in fact.” Kelly’s words come out smooth as silk, and I don’t find out the lie till later.
“We’ve only the single guest bed, but there’s the sofa.” I’m not up-to-date on youth customs.
“We won’t stay, Grams. We’d not put you out like that.” Kelly, always the polite one. Until she gets mad, then watch out. She gets that from me, I think.
“I’ll not put you out either, Kelly. Not in this cold. Nor your friend.”
A young lassie, name of Pat it turns out, comes flying out the back door, letting it slam and shaking the hinge screws a bit looser. She says she’s there to help me with the wood, so I let her stack it against the back of the house whilst I finish up the chopping. She’s wearing my old down coat and a floppy stocking cap, looking better in them than I do these days, them being all loose on me and such. I never realized that old striped cap looked so foolish. Reckon I’ll give it to her. Or to John next door. He looks like he could use some warming up, Grams likes to say.
I surprise Pat with a full-on layer one that I just lately learned how to do. Nice lady. Wonder if Kelly will take some pity on this one, and keep her around a bit longer. Oops. You heard that. Well, Pat, the sooner you find out just how picky Kelly is, the sooner you’ll get your broken heart healed up. No, Grams isn’t so far along on the layers. In fact, she doesn’t even want the first one, being quite content not knowing the things I’m thinking. Very sensible. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t find time to milk the goats.
…and back to the story
Kelly and Pat head out the next morning, Pat wearing Gramps’s old stocking cap and looking ridiculous. An amused Kelly notices that Pat is growing on her again. Well, that’s a first, she thinks. Maybe this will come to something after all. As if she’s heard her, Pat gives Kelly’s hand a squeeze and gifts her a smile and a wink.