1.18. To the Moon and Back
Polaris studies her oldest granddaughter. Lydia looks unbearably like Quentin, but her voice reminds her so much of Luna when she was a child: surprisingly deep for a girl, with an intelligent sounding timber.
“I don’t know if mom told you, but I’m on student council,” Lydia brags, “I beat out Anatol Svard for president., and his parents paid for actual printed campaign posters.”
“Wow,” Polaris replies, “that’s impressive.”
“And I have the highest grades in class.”
“Is that so?”
Lydia deflates a little. “Well, I’m tied with Luke. But my extracurriculars should count for more! He’s just in the stupid chess club, but I’m president of student council.”
“I see. Are you always this competitive?”
Lydia blinks, “Life is a competition, and I’m going to win.”
Polaris smirks, “that’s the spirit.”
Luke Junior, meanwhile, is speaking Crux. His mother had mentioned that Crux is a chess master, and Luke feels the need to inform him about all of his chess knowledge. It isn’t braggadocious--really, Luke would like to learn more from Crux. After all, a true master is aware of what he doesn’t know.
Lark pairs off with the only remaining grandparent, her biological grandfather.
“Hi,” she greets him, “you have very pretty eyes.”
“Thanks,” Luke Senior beams.
“I like all your eyelashes. They’re like a girl’s eyelashes.”
“I guess that’s nice?”
“Why is Grandma Polly married to Grandpa Crux and not you?”
“Um, you’d have to ask her.”
“She’s talking to Lydia right now, and Lydia never shuts up,” Lark frowns, “do you still love Grandma?”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
Luke shifts uncomfortably.
Quentin, sensing his father-in-law’s dismay, invites him to jam. Lydia joins in on the piano. Quentin had initially taught her violin, and Luke piano. However, Lydia asked to switch to piano once she felt Luke had become “too good” at it.
The trio is very talented. Well, Quentin and Luke are very talented. Lydia is okay, for a child. Her contributions to the song are sometimes discordant, but the melody is still pleasant nonetheless.
Crux and Luke Junior, meanwhile, play chess, with the promise that Crux will teach him new strategies. Lydia may be the competitive one, but Luke still wants a defensive strategy in case his sister ever challenges his standing in the chess club. She has shown no interest in it, but she’s mercilessly opportunistic. She’s already considering what other clubs can increase her clout with the teachers and administration at the Nature and Nurture Learning Academy.
The pair doesn’t talk as they play, beyond Crux giving gentle criticisms and suggestions. Luke has a lot of potential--he takes his time before decided on each move, considering all of the paths he sees before moving. Unfortunately, he can only think forward two or three moves.
Polaris watches, impressed. Luke Junior is providing a very slight challenge for Crux, which is more than most people are able to do, and Lydia can keep up with her father and grandfather. However, Lark hangs back, away from the center of attention. She bobs her head along with the music, but she doesn’t partake in the activities.. Polaris frowns. She seems left out.
“What are you good at, Lark?” The question is meant to be a simple inquiry into her granddaughter's hobbies, but it comes out unnecessarily cruel. Lark’s shoulders slump.
“I dunno. Mom says I’m good at breaking stuff,” she mumbles.
“Hmm, that seems useful,” Polaris smiles awkwardly.
“Useful at getting me in trouble,” Lark pouts. Sheba whines and licks her hand, trying to comfort her.
Polaris grimaces and looks away, returning to the music. After the song finishes, she turns to speak before noticing that Lark has vanished.
“Hey--where did Lark go?”
Luna glances at her mother. “Upstairs, probably. She hangs out in her room a lot. Especially when she’s upset. What did you say to upset her, mom?”
“I don’t know,” Polaris rolls her eyes as she jogs up the stairs.
She can hear soft humming from the hallway, high-pitched and cheerful. Polaris pushes open the door. Lark is sitting on the floor, playing with a sea monster toy.
“Oh--hi, grandma. I’m like super busy right now.”
“Playing with your toy?”
“Her name is Nessie,” Lark frowns, “and I’m trying to recreate her environment to figure out how she lives.”
“And how are you going to recreate her habitat?”
“Well,” Lark sighs, “mom and dad won’t pony up for the materials, so I’m using my imagination.”
Polaris sits down across from Lark. “So you’re interested in science?”
“No,” Lark admits, “I just didn’t want you to think I was dumb for playing with toys.”
“Why would I think you’re dumb,” Polaris laughs, “you’re a kid. That’s what kids do.”
“Lydia and Luke don’t play with toys,” Lark grumbles.
“They’re older than you, honey. They’re almost teenagers..”
“Nuh-uh, they never played with toys. Mom said so. She says that’s why I need to learn a skill,” Lark deepens her voice as she imitates her mom, “‘Lydia and Luke have extracurriculars and hobbies, Lark. When are you going to pick up a hobby?’”
“Okay, either your mom is lying, or your siblings are freaks of nature. All kids play with toys, dummy.”
“They’re freaks then,” Lark agrees, “and I think they’re robots.”
“Definitely. Far too perfect to share genetics with me, that’s for sure.”
“Good,” Lark takes a quick breath before continuing, her words running together, “momsaysyou’reanalien--is that true?”
“Yup, 100% extraterrestrial.”
“Wow,” Lark’s eyes widen, “do you have any powers?”
“Um, no. That’s ridiculous. I’m not much different from any human. Except I’m smarter, of course, but that might be due to Simnation’s poor education system more than anything else.”
“Oh. How come Grandpa Luke is our grandfather and Crux isn’t?”
“Um, I boffed him and I got preggo? I dunno. Sorry, but that’s a dumb question.”
“It’s okay. Lydia says all my questions are dumb so I’m used to it. Hey, what does ‘boff’ mean?”
“It means I liked him a lot. Physically, even.”
Lark considers what her grandmother means for a moment before continuing. “What made you like Grandpa Luke?”
“Hmm,” Polaris looks thoughtful, “Are you familiar with the term ‘hung like a horse’?”
“People hang horses?!”
“No, honey. That would be hanged like a horse. It means--you know what, nevermind. Let’s just say he had a certain set of skills that I found desirable.”
“So then why did you marry Grandpa Crux instead?”
“Because I’ve loved him since the moment we met,” Polaris smiles wistfully, “though don’t tell him that. I don’t want him to get too cocky.”
“When did you meet him?”
“It’s a boring story,” Polaris says with a cryptic smile. She would love to tell it, but she’s playing hard to get.
“Please tell me, Grandma?’
Polaris takes in a deep breath before she begins. She had told a similar story to Lark’s aunt and uncle years ago: as a young woman on an alien planet, she had competed for a position in the science, research, and military arm of the government. She never expected to fall in love on the way, and then nearly lose it all on her first mission. It’s a twisting story, full of cliches, but it seems to entertain her granddaughter.
That is until Lark falls asleep. Seems it was a boring story after all.
Polaris puts her hand on Lark’s back, feeling for the soft rise and fall as she breathes. As the mother of five children and the grandmother of nine, she’s held a sleeping child many times. But for some reason, it never fails to amaze and comfort her: Lark indirectly came from her. She created life, and that life created its own offspring, and soon that offspring will create a new generation. It might be small, insignificant, lost in the tides of time, but Polaris has a legacy.
Quentin carries Lark downstairs at bedtime. Luna insisted that her parents not waste any money on a hotel, so the children are given sleeping bags and ordered to sleep in the living room that night. The kids are exhausted, even Lark, so they sleep like rocks.
Even with all the activity happening directly above them in Lark’s bedroom.
Polaris decides to spend some of her remaining time with Lark. She can tell Lark needs attention, perhaps in the form of sage wisdom from a grandmother, but she’s under a time crunch. So she decides to fit it all in during an energetic game of frisbee before the school bus arrives.
“People will give you shit if you fall for a bad boy, but I want you to know that it makes sense--girls are so constrained by sexist societal demands they aren’t able to express themselves, but bad boys give them some opportunity to do so.”
“Whatever. Boys are gross, grandma.”
“That’s what you say now, but puberty is going to hit you like a ton of bricks pretty soon.”
Lark wrinkles her nose as she catches the frisbee, “I don’t think so.”
“And take it from me--wrap it first, okay, honey? At least until you’re ready for kids.”
“I don’t know what that means, grandma.”
“I know, sweetie. You’re too pure. But commit those words to memory. You’ll know what it means when the time comes.”
Lark repeats “wrap it first” to herself a few times under her breath. If her grandmother wants her to remember it, it must be important.
“And don’t worry too much about ‘finding yourself,’” Polaris continues, “I know your parents want the best for you, but you don’t need to have a special hobby or get really good grades or anything like that. Just do what makes you happy.”
“I will, grandma.”
“Good,” she smiles and tosses the frisbee back to Lark. They’re silent for a moment, the sound of the ocean overtaking them.
“Anything else, grandma?”
“Yes, one more thing,” Polaris forces a smile, her eyes watering a little, “Know that no matter how far away I am, I love you.”
“I love you, too, grandma.”