That night, back in the castle, Mick wasn’t waiting for her, so she went looking for Mick.
She found Deniece while she was searching the common rooms on the first floor. Deniece was sprawled across a daybed, reading a book in the sunlit conservatory, her dark, slender legs propped on the nearby windowsill. She looked up when she heard Louise in the doorway.
Louise apologized and introduced herself, and asked after Mick.
“Mmmm,” Deniece said, pressing the corner of the book to her sensuous mouth. “I haven’t seen her tonight, actually, but she likes the roof and the folly in the gardens.”
“Thanks,” Louise said, and was about to turn away when a thought stopped her. Or maybe it was those amazing legs. Anyway. “Deniece, can I ask you why you keep coming back?”
Deniece raised her eyebrows and sat up (beautifully, gracefully) to look at Louise more closely. She said, “Damn, girl, it’s because I am havin’ fun. Isn’t that the only reason to do anything at this point?”
Louise smiled wryly. “True enough. Thanks.”
Checking the roof was a pleasant experience of realizing that running up the several staircases didn’t wind her or cause her knees or hips to ache. However, she didn’t find Mick until she climbed to the top of the ruined tower folly that stood in the far corner of the gardens.
“Are you brooding?” she said, sitting down on the top step.
Mick inhaled from a half-smoked self-rolled cigarette, held it for a moment, then let the smoke out in Louise’s direction. “Yes,” she said.
“Should I go away?” Louise said, waving away the familiar-smelling smoke from the joint.
Mick thudded her head back against the stone and rolled her eyes. “No,” she said in a tone that added a teenager’s Obviously! After a moment, she curled her muscular body so she could hand the joint to Louise. “One of the nice parts about this place is we can do whatever we want and the drug residue won’t show up on the pee detectors in our goddamn toilets.”
Louise put it to her lips and inhaled, and it tasted like it had the last time she’d toked, years and years and years ago, and she got a little dizzy immediately like she expected to. She wondered if women who had never tried it would experience any effects at all. Was this all playing on body memories?
“Why do you always have to overthink everything?” Mick said, and it wasn’t an accusatory tone. It was a little dreamy and thoughtful, like Mick often got after sex.
“Because that’s what I do, Mick,” Louise said, handing the joint back and leaning into the cool stone of the wall. “That’s what I’ve always done.”
“But when you do it here, I’m afraid…” Mick’s voice trailed off, like she was about to say something else, but Louise knew she’d actually finished the thought. “You know what you’re like? What I worry you’re like, I mean?” Mick added.
“Tell me,” Louise said.
“You’re like… like Wile E. Coyote,” Mick said, shaking her finger at Louise with every syllable.
Louise blinked at her. It had been a few years (a lot more than a few actually) since she last heard that name.
“While I,” Mick said, sitting up straight and laying a hand dramatically on her chest, “am like the Road Runner.”
Louise raised an eyebrow.
“You start running, but then you stop and look down, and realize you’re running on air,” Mick said.
“And I fall?” Louise said, and swept her hands around her to demonstrate that the hypothesis was false, she was still in la-la land with Mick.
“Not immediately,” Mick said. “You can try to scramble and get running again. You have that chance, you know,” she added confidingly.
Louise let that pass. “And how are you like the Road Runner?”
Mick grinned, that wide, easy I know better than you grin that generally drove Louise to distraction in more ways than one. “You notice the Road Runner never looks down?”
Louise snorted and started to stand. “Come on, you old thing, you. We’re wasting time here when we could be fucking. We have a few years to make up for.”
Mick reached over and dragged Louise into her lap. “Why put it off for a bed when we have the tower to ourselves?”
“Exhibitionist,” Louise said, wondering idly again who was watching, but then Mick’s hands got under her shirt and she thought maybe she should just keep running and not look down at that particular moment.
Dozing was difficult in this place, Louise decided after lying exhausted and limp but completely awake next to Mick for a while. She rolled over to say something to Mick, and found her lying there, staring into space, still and unresponsive. After she poked, prodded, snapped, waved, and even shouted at her lover with no reaction, Louise snatched up her clothes and ran for the castle, intent on finding help.
She jogged down a wide stone hallway, but was unable to find anyone in any of the nearby rooms, so she hurried down to the lower floors. She soon ran into a tall, slim, familiar-looking woman.
“I’m sorry,” Louise said, catching her arm, “but there’s something wrong with Mick.”
The woman looked at her, dark eyebrows raised, then pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Is she lying there and doing nothing?”
“Yes, yes!” Louise said, restraining herself from pulling on the woman’s arm.
“Ah,” her tormenter said. “That’s pretty common, actually.”
Louise stared at her. “What do you mean, common?”
“Sometimes,” the taller woman said, gently disengaging her arm from Louise’s hand, “women just zone out. They don’t fade and wake up, they just zone. Especially people on high doses of Cog and other meds.”
Louise made herself drop her weight into her center of gravity and breathe deeply to slow her pounding heart. “Do you know why?”
“I think,” her acquaintance said, “that people on high doses of Cog never entirely leave here. And in real life, they’re more than a little checked out. There’s this one girl in my home who I know is on Cog, and I’ve seen her here—she doesn’t like me though, so we don’t talk. Anyway, she just sits in the sun room and stares these days. Acts real bitchy if someone tries to talk to her or one of the staff tries to ask her something or take her off to, you know, ‘do maintenance’.” The woman stuck her hand out. “I’m Concepción, by the way. I’m 92, you?”
Louise shook her hand firmly. “Louise. 87. So if Mick is ‘zoned out’ like this, she’s just being disturbed in real life? Woken up?”
Concepción shrugged. “I guess. I’m only on 2 Cogs a day right now. I hear some girls are up to 8.”
“Must be hell on the liver,” Louise said.
“Really?” Concepción said casually. “Well, sometimes, the choice is pretty clear: liver or living. Hey, I gotta go. You okay now?”
“Yeah,” Louise said. “Thanks.” She watched Concepción trot outside onto the wide green lawn. Then she returned to Mick.
Mick was blinking and rubbing her eyes. “Hey, there, sexy,” she said, sitting up. “Where’d you go?”
Louise opened her mouth to say I thought you were having a stroke or dying so I panicked and ran for help, then shrugged and said, “I heard something weird, thought I’d go check it out.”
“Hah,” Mick said, reaching for Louise. “There’s nothing weird here except out in the woods. Ready for round 5?”