Carol felt empty and cold despite being cocooned in heavy layers of tight fitting fencing gear. Her chest strained against the fabric as she took deep, ragged breaths in an attempt to calm herself down. Tears strained against the dam of her own resilience, an onslaught that once started she wouldn’t be able to stop. She pushed her thoughts down and blinked back the tidal wave of emotion threatening to overwhelm her small and hollow body. Carol forced herself into the en guard position giving her body and mind something else to focus on, it was a tool she had often recommended to clients over the years, one that was easier said than done. The empty piste stretched out before her like a vast white desert as she waited for her opponent to show in earnest.
Her own breath rang heavy in her ears, echoing off the wire fencing mask. She focused on each exhalation as it left her body, counting to five in her head to drag each one out. With her focus taken up completely with breath work she was unable to hear footsteps behind her, so when Lavin popped into view waving and calling her name, she was taken aback.
‘Carol? What are you doing?’ asked Lavin. He had moved out of range of her weapon, probably a force of habit rather than an active distrust.
‘Did I ever tell you about how we met? Sarah and I.’ Carol said from behind the mask. Shaking his head Lavin remained silent, letting her tell the tale. ‘She joined the fencing team not long after starting with us. She was good. Really good. After a few bouts we got to talking, a bit of friendly chit chat that soon became getting coffee, which in turn lead to lunches and eventually dinner. We were both sounding each other out, testing the waters for friendship and, well more really. She was beautiful, you know that already but gods, she was everything to me. I’ve been in the same room as Aphrodite and I still think Sarah would give her a run for her money.’ She stood still in the silence of the room, lost in memory. Instinctively she lunged forward, plunging her sword tip into an invisible opponent as the memories flooded over her.
The point was hard won but Sarah remained triumphant in the end, scoring the last point with a well placed épée strike. Carol took off her fencing mask and crossed the short distance to congratulate her opponent. Sarah was grinning ear to ear under her mask and gave the woman an over excited hug, forgetting the bulky helmet as they clashed heads together.
‘Ow, Sarah!’ said Carol pulling away.
‘Sorry! Sorry!’ Sarah called. ‘I won! I can’t believe it!’ She did a little hop down the piste that made Carol smile to herself.
‘Too bad no one was here to see it.’ Said Carol as she unclipped herself from the various wires.
‘Oh don’t do that. I won fair and square.’ She said pulling off the mask and pouting. ‘How many times have you won now?’
‘I’ve lost count.’
‘Exactly. Let me have this victory. It may be the only one I get.’
Carol, strode over to Sarah. Her short black hair was damp from sweat and flattened against her flushed red cheeks. Carol ungloved her hands and started to move the hair from Sarah’s face. She looked down into Sarah’s deep brown eyes and smiled, letting a hand run down the woman’s waist.
‘You beat me, fair and square my love. I must be getting slow in my old age.’
‘Yeah well, you don’t look a day over four hundred.’ Sarah said dropping her sword and pulling Carol in close. Sarah looked up into Carol’s grey eyes and a mischievous grin spread over her lips. Moving in closer, with their lips almost but not quite touching, Sarah said ‘I think the winner deserves a prize don’t you?’
‘Oh sure.’ Said Carol, wrapping her hand behind Sarah’s head. ‘What prize is that?’
Carol heard the sound of the zipper before she felt it as Sarah undid her jacket. The rip of Velcro echoed through the empty training room as Sarah pulled the fencing jacket over Carol’s shoulders. Her arms bound slightly by the tight jacket, Carol struggled trying to shimmy the sleeves off. She was stopped by Sarah.
‘No, I like you like this. Makes it easier to claim my prize.’ She said before pushing her lips into Carol’s. The two kissed passionately before Sarah drew back, playfully pulling at Carol’s bottom lip with her teeth. Carol gasped and shuddered, wishing her hands were free, but enjoying the forced restraint. A seductive smile fell across Sarah’s face, ‘You know, I think I like winning,’ she said. ‘I might just have to stay on top around here.’ Carol bit her bottom lip in anticipation as Sarah nudged her towards the change rooms, all the while whispering sweet nothings into her ear.
The two lay collapsed together on the cold tile floor, skin on skin as they both caught their breath. Carol let her fingers lightly wander idly up and down her lover’s arm, a soft purr of content escaped Sarah’s throat as she nuzzled her head into Carol’s shoulder.
‘I want to stay like this forever, please.’ Sarah said softly.
‘You want to sit naked on the locker room floor forever?’ Carol teased. ‘Seems rather unsanitary to me.’
Sarah lightly slapped the outside of Carol’s thigh, ‘dork. You know what I mean.’
Carol squeezed her tightly and planted a gentle kiss on Sarah’s forehead. “I know exactly what you mean.”
The sound of sobbing brought her back to the present, her extended sword arm weighed heavily in front of her. Without thinking Carol went to wipe away the tears that had begun to fall from her eyes. The dam had burst and let flow an unending stream of fat, warm drops that streaked down her cheeks and pooled at the bottom of her chin. The clunk of her gloved hand as it hit the face mask only made things worse, what was once quiet solitude quickly became a prison she desperately wanted out of. She dropped the sword unceremoniously as she reached back and ripped free the Velcro strap, wrenching the mask away from her head with both hands. Tears traced black rivulets of mascara down her face, like rain running down a dirty window pane.
Lavin hesitated for a moment, as if unsure of how best to comfort a grieving woman. He settled on wordlessly scooping Carol into his arms and holding her tightly, she responded by nestling into his shoulder and sobbing heavily.
‘I fucked up, Richard.’ She whispered into his shoulder. ‘She’s dead because of me.’
‘Do you really think that?’ said Lavin. She could feel his arms tighten around her waist and head press up against hers.
‘What else is there to think? I took a mortal into a negotiation with an armed and angry goddess. In what scenario does that end well?’
’Not many,’ he said sadly.
‘I should have stopped her. I should have insisted she stay outside!’ She clenched her fist, gripping the fabric of Lavin’s uniform and burying her face further into him.
‘Uh, have you even met Sarah?’ He asked, the subtle humour blanketed by the sadness they both felt.
Carol sniffed, wiping a hand uselessly across her cheek as she pulled back to look at Richard, the tiniest of smiles forced its way onto her face. ‘Yeah, once or twice. She was a stubborn bitch even in the best of times.’
He cupped her head in his hand, the other still locked around her middle. Gently wiping away the smudges of makeup he looked her in the eyes, ‘Yeah, that’s her alright. Reminds me of someone else I know too.’ He shot her one of those genuine, warm smiles that he seemed to reserve just for her, the ones that always seemed to melt through her strongest self-pitying moments. Her heart lightened for a fraction of a second allowing her to retort with a hint of a grin, ‘You know us two, stubborn bitches till the end.’
As the words she spoke sunk in the spell was broken and they were both left with their grief and sadness. The soundless space of the empty gym broke over them as their smiles faded and the tears started again. She was grateful for the interruption that chimed throughout the gym.
A familiar voice echoed through the embedded speakers apologising for the interruption.
‘What is it Aaron?’ Asked Lavin.
‘I know we’re all going through things right now but I think we need to talk about Tony.’ Aaron said through the intercom. ‘He’s…well, he’s kind of throwing himself into his work. I mean, we all are, or at least I am but…’ He trailed off in the way he did when he thought people had stopped listening to him.
Carol took a step back from Lavin and addressed one of the cameras she knew Aaron had throughout the facility. ‘You mean he’s cataloguing too hard or something? I can have a talk to him, I just…I need a few minutes.’ Lavin cocked his head at her but she dismissed his concerns with a shake of her head.
There was a pause before Aaron responded, ‘Not cataloguing no, more like obsessive research.’
‘What’s the problem with research?’ Asked Lavin, ‘I thought that’s one of the things he did.’
‘It is, and he’s very good at it,’ said Aaron, ‘he’s pulling everything we have on Mnemosyne…’
Silence filled the air as Lavin shrugged at Carol and she shook her head back at him.
‘…the goddess of memory.’ Prompted Aaron.
‘Fuck,’ said Carol.