“It’s hard to know where to draw the line sometimes,” Sveta confessed.
We were standing at the crosswalk. We’d just met near the station, hugged, and were heading down toward the city core. I’d just come from my physical therapy for my arm and having a doctor look at the burn on my arm, and I had the buzz of the recent exercise, the endorphins from the pain, all on top of the feeling of being freshly showered and toweled off.
No costume- only a sweater, jeans, boots, and a gray wool coat with overly elaborate buckles. I did have my bag with me, but I wasn’t packing the costume inside. No equipment, but with the buzz, clean feeling, and endorphins, I had all of the emotional armor and preparation I could pull together for seeing family.
Snow fell lazily around us, but the vehicles on the road and their hot exhaust were generating just enough heat to keep the streets wet but clear snow and ice. The sidewalks where pedestrians weren’t active were getting covered by a layer that sat just over top of the ice that lingered from the on-and-off freezing rain of the past two days, adding to its slickness. Sveta’s hair, my hair, and our coats were dusted with snowflakes.
“Sveta,” I said, giving my friend a careful look, trying to think of how I could diplomatically phrase my response, “You have better lines than most people I know, and most people I know are superheroes. What the fuck are you talking about?”
“With you,” she said. “Sorry. I don’t know when to stop myself or when to keep going, because I haven’t had a lot of friends over the years. I’m not good with friend dilemmas.”
“Ah,” I said. I paused. “I didn’t want to put you in the middle of a dilemma. Whatever it is.”
Sveta squeezed my arm. She was leaning on me for balance, as her body wasn’t quite in perfect working order and the sidewalks were slick. “It’s not a thing you did. Um. Sorry, I don’t want to get too deep into it, which is part of it. I don’t want to bum you out.”
“We can talk. I trust you.”
“It’s more-” she started. The light changed, and after a second, we started forward. “We’ve seen each other at our worst, right? On the baddest of bad days, when we just needed a shoulder, we helped each other out.”
“And I know where you come from. I knew and believed what you were saying when you brought up your sister.”
“Yeah. You backed me up when I didn’t trust myself to say anything to her.”
“Even with that, I don’t know where that line is. People have their boundaries, usually, and they draw them out behind them through a hundred signals, some really subtle, and some obvious. And yours is… very hard to identify until I’m in contact with it or you’re already in that very bad place. All of us are actually pretty bad about it, but yours is especially tricky because I care a shitton about you.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I won’t argue that. Thank you. I’ve actually been thinking about that, actually. How the team is dealing, the past couple of days, post-Prison.”
“Turning on the heaters, turning on the televisions and radios, and watching the news with a dull, sick feeling.”
“…Can’t argue the sick feeling either. But we seem to be doing reasonably well,” I said. “Not great, but that wasn’t a situation that was going to be great for anyone. I think we’re getting distracted.”
“A mass breakout of the emergency prison, mind control, your sister showing up and her leaving with Chris? Yeah, distracting. But go on.”
“I’m thinking about how we deal and how we adapt. The lines, the boundaries and the secrets. Jessica wanted me to look after the team, and… Chris happened.”
“You can’t blame yourself for failing to help someone who actively resisted help,” Sveta said. “You tried. You showed up at his place, asked his guardian some questions about how he was doing, and she responded with worry? He blew up, and I think he blew up because he wanted to keep you from looking further. And it worked. Whatever he had going on, he somehow decided we weren’t the answer. He heard what you had to say about your sister, and he still went with her. Fuck him.”
I was trying to be tough, but something in that final combination of words tested my resolve. Maybe it was the emphatic ‘fuck’, so close to the mention of her.
I’d deal. I had to, because it tied into what I wanted to push forward to the group.
“We’ve done that thing a lot of teams end up doing,” I said. “We had that one tough fight. That one scenario where we’re outmatched or we go up against the person who tests or breaks convention. For my family it might have been Marquis. For the Major Malfunctions, it might have been turning up for a routine surveillance job and getting a literal army of mind controlled thralls teleporting into their neighborhood.”
“Going through hell and making it out the other side with the team.”
“Yeah. For varying definitions of hell and ‘making it’. We’ve had our trial by fire. We have our first real loss after losing Chris. All of us have had cause or reason to reveal some deeper stuff.”
I shrugged the shoulder she was leaning on. “I don’t know. All I’m saying is… we might have to shift how we do this. We’ve protected and defended each other having secrets. We had that ‘it’s complicated’ card that we could always pull. It might be time to stop that. To have no more secrets.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Yeah. But if we can’t trust each other-”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Sveta interrupted. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m anxious about the team, and it’s been worse since… everything those two nights. Not just Chris, but getting a live-action roleplay, complete with all of the feelings of betrayal, as you end up acting like my enemy?”
I could hear the anxiety in her voice at that last line. I gave her a jostle, before shifting my grip to put my arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against my shoulder, in a way that might have made walking hard if she’d had an ordinary body and balance.
She continued, “It would be nice to not have to wonder as much.”
“Yeah,” I said. “We do this thing where we prove we have the chops because we can win fights, but the group gets a little shakier where things are already shaky. I’m not omitting myself from that, either. I want to have the chops and not be so shaky when doing it.”
“Yes. Absolutely yes,” Sveta said. She lifted her head up from my shoulder. “Speaking of shaky…”
She pointed at our destination.
“Yeah,” I acknowledged her.
“Hey,” she injected fake cheer into her voice. “Upside! Teeny-tiny upside.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You get to watch them eat crow.”
I sighed. I shook my head.
I shook my head.
The office building was packed. There was a lobby, and I saw two young employees sitting on the floor, papers around them. Overall, given the hour of the attack, the issue with the portals had done far more damage to real estate than it had done to the population. As people had resumed work, they’d needed to go somewhere, and this was one such somewhere. A building that now overflowed with people.
I craned my head a bit before spotting my mom. My dad was a short distance away, and he’d at least tossed the athletic-fit sports clothes in favor of something nicer, like a thirty year old guy might wear out to dinner. He wasn’t thirty, but I’d take what I could get.
Someone had pointed us out, because he turned to look, my mom following, once she noticed him looking.
It had been two days since the prison breakout. One day to recuperate and lick our wounds. Medical care for me and Rain, prosthetic body fixes for Sveta. Rain, Ashley and Damsel had needed to get some baseline things squared away with their sentences.
Needed, but hadn’t gotten. It was a big, ominous question mark floating over their heads now.
One day for that. One day to catch our breath after that. Because recuperating and healing was work. The second day served to let us ground ourselves again. Kenzie had maintained contact with people online, but as part of our unofficial, unspoken ‘taking care of ourselves’ day, it made sense that she would take care of herself by reaching out.
This was our day three. Our day to consolidate. I’d been talking about that from a distant, logical perspective, new rules, approaches, or policies, but I would have to tackle the more emotional, vague perspective later.
And, in another kind of ‘consolidation’, of focusing on bonds and promises and all the things that tied us together, I’d have to deal with a team of a much different sort. The sort that virtually everyone was born into.
“You didn’t answer your emails,” my mom scolded me.
Right out of the gates.
“I answered some. If I didn’t answer any, I wouldn’t be here.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m glad you were willing to meet,” my dad said. “Hi Sveta. It’s so good to see you again.”
“I love the coat,” my mom said.
“It’s borrowed, actually,” Sveta said. Her coat was one of my spares, for when I’d had to spend long durations outside during my stint at the Patrol, during the winter that I’d lost fifteen pounds and had suddenly found the cold very much affected me. Bulky and nondescript- not a coat that one would ‘love’. Moms.
“Do you want to go somewhere private to talk?” I asked.
“This way,” my mom said.
She led us outside, then down the street. “This is the cafe we visit when we have to have more private meetings. The board rooms at the office were converted into more offices. It’s quiet here.”
Quiet was one way of putting it. Typically in the late morning, delis like this could be counted on to be transitioning from breakfast to lunch, with a few people having extended brunches. There was one other couple in the place.
We found a booth and sat.
“I know you probably have questions,” I said.
“We’ve heard a lot about what happened,” my mom said. “The bullet points. That includes your sister, though, she isn’t mentioned much.”
“She wasn’t there much,” I said. Why was this so hard? “The Lady in Blue had a danger sense, and my sister was so nonthreatening that she didn’t trip it. She didn’t do anything until it was ninety-five percent over. Then she was the final five percent.”
“We heard about that,” my dad said. “She sent us a message before disappearing to Earth Shin.”
“And?” I asked.
“She says she can do more good there. You wanted her to leave and to give you space and she’s doing that,” he said.
My mom leaned forward over the table. “She was optimistic she could play a part in repairing human-cape relationships and use her power as a bargaining chip to broker peace and better relationships between Shin and Gimel.”
“Ah,” I said.
My dad chimed in, “Being as objective as I can, she’s doing something good. She knows we’re in for a hard winter, and if she can promise peace and stability in exchange for some surplus food being sent our way? It could save an incredible number of lives. Millions. And she’s doing it while giving you your space.”
“Space? Two nights ago she tried to catch me by surprise and touch me. It was a meeting she requested that set off all of the worst events of that night. I’m supposed to smile and accept all of that?”
“It’s not an all-in-one package, Vicky,” my dad said. “We can celebrate the good things while working on the bad.”
I shook my head. Frustration was getting the better of me, despite my earlier resolve.
“If I can-” Sveta jumped in. “I know this is a family matter, and I’m not family.”
“You’re close enough,” my dad said.
I could see Sveta was a little taken aback by that. Enough that she lost whatever it was that she had planned on saying.
He went on, “You looked after Victoria when she was in the hospital. I’m so grateful that you were there for her in times we couldn’t be. If you ever wanted a place to go for a holiday, if you wanted a say or a vote, I think you earned it.”
“Well said,” I said to my dad.
“Stop,” Sveta said, flustered. “You’re making it hard to think.”
I leaned back in my seat.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dallon. I understand that Amy can do an incredible amount of good, if she puts her mind to it. If it were Vicky in that position, I would trust her to do it. But it’s not Vicky.”
“You know Vicky well,” my mom said. “You haven’t had the same exposure to Amy. She had years of helping people under her belt before she broke down. In the face of the Slaughterhouse Nine.”
“I know Vicky but I’ve seen Amy’s work. Can we try a thought experiment? If you don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind,” my mom said.
“Pretend that we had the same timeline, starting from now. Something like three years of her helping people, a tremendous amount of help. Giving her all-”
“Burning out,” I said.
“Burning out, yes,” Sveta added my bit. “Feeling pressured, feeling desperate. Pretend it was three years of that, and then she comes face to face with a monster. And she breaks down again. What if she ends up repeating the cycle, and she repeats it while seven point three billion people are at her mercy? What then?”
It was all I could do to just keep my mouth shut and stay at the table. I didn’t like pretending, even though I’d tried to put it out of mind.
“That’s entirely unfair,” my mom said.
“Why?” Sveta asked, her eyes wide. “We all relapse when it comes to our bad behaviors, and when dealing with someone like her, we have to use past experience to judge how she might act in the future. If that sounds unfair, keep in mind, that’s how I deal with thinking about myself.”
“People change,” my mom said, giving each word its own emphasis.
“People change, but if you knew someone who negligently discharged a handgun, if their core behavior hadn’t changed, would you really trust them around children with a gun?”
“It would depend on context, and your definition of core behavior. I know you mean well, Sveta, but there is so much more to this.”
Sveta shook her head. She tried to tap a metal finger on the table, but the hand kind of splatted out instead. She didn’t seem to mind or pay much notice. “Keep in mind that it’s not just one child at stake here. Seven point three billion people, that’s how many kids?”
“Roughly twenty-five percent,” I said. “One point eight billion kids.”
“One point eight billion kids. We haven’t seen that she’s changed,” Sveta said.
Carol shook her head. “There’s more at play than core behavior patterns. If that person had a support network keeping a close eye on them, when they hadn’t before? Caring parents and a sister? If she proved willing to listen to outside input, including a therapist?”
“She wasn’t listening the other night,” I said.
“To be frank, young lady,” my mother said. “You were under the influence of a power.”
“To be frank, mom, she was fucking why!”
“Quiet now,” my mom said, all composure. Her voice was infuriatingly calm. “There are other people in the room.”
She had a slight smile on her face as I sat back, reeling myself in.
That seething fury found its way into my voice as I kept the rest of my words level. “I wasn’t under the influence when she was meeting up with a tyrant in the weeks leading up to the prison breakout. Not Marquis, by the way. She’s hanging out with him too, but I’m going to assume we’re conveniently ignoring that-”
“Let’s,” my mom said.
“She’s keeping the company of some pretty scummy people. She has a fucking miniature devil on her shoulder, like some villain from a feature length kid’s animation. That’s where she’s at in the past and present. Future? We weren’t under the influence after the tyrant was killed, when she said ‘flock to me, villains, come and submit to my control, we’re going to Shin to take power!’ ”
“That doesn’t sound great, and it was left out of the call,” my dad said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s not the exact wording, but it’s-”
“It was close to that,” Sveta volunteered.
“It was close,” I finished my sentence, echoing her.
“Past, she was overworked and we failed her,” my mom said, her voice stern. “All of us failed her. Present, she’s alone except for the company of those villains because she’s scared to maintain contact with us. She’s scrabbling for support structures, and she seems to be maintaining good standards and goals. That’s commendable. Future? That’s up to us. People are defined by the supports they have around them. If we don’t give her something to come back to, then she’s going to stay with them. Her perspective will skew, because all perspectives warp when there’s nobody around to help keep them straight. Don’t use the past-present-future framing of argument on me when I taught it to you.”
“Somehow, in all of this, we aren’t holding her accountable for her own actions?” I asked. “Because I kind of remember this dynamic of a teenage girl bouncing around and being passed around to wherever she could be useful until she passed briefly into some ugly Slaughterhouse Nine hands and lost it. Lost it with casualties in the process. Me. Herself. But also me. Then she gets to fucking act like herself for one singularly stupid, horrifying-”
I choked on my words, too pissed to form a sentence.
“One act,” Sveta said.
“Or chain of acts. Or one act that sets her on a road where her choices are all bad. I don’t know. But she still chose,” I said. “And she had opportunities later, and she made more bad choices. Ones with casualties.”
I heard my mom sigh. The restaurant was so quiet, the city outside even quieter than usual because the cold weather meant people weren’t venturing out as much, it was crunch time at the various jobs around here, and it was still a bit too early for lunch breaks. The light snow had its faint effect on the sound of the outside world.
It was so easy to imagine we were all in this place, and there was nobody else in the universe.
My mom spoke, “If Amy took it upon herself to touch villains and alter the broken reward cycles, if Amy wanted to give them a conscience, or if Amy wanted to fix whatever was broken in their physiology that made them aggressive, I’m not about to say no. If there’s any risk to the-”
I dropped my eyes to the table. The ‘Amy’ refrain was endless and the song was one I didn’t want to hear. Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy. It was like a rock against my skull. Not necessarily enough to penetrate with the first blow, but chipping away, giving me a headache, and so fucking crude, stupid, and raw.
And, worse, it was a refrain that echoed my mentality those two years ago. Amy. Amy. Amy. I need her, I want her. It had been my mind for all that time.
Sveta touched my arm, rubbing it. A bit of physical reality to bring me back to the moment. I nodded to a question unasked.
“-thinkers will be able to detect it,” Carol said.
Sveta cut in, “I don’t care what your views are on how villains are treated, except, I’m sorry, but maybe I do, wow, and no. Or your willingness to put civilians in the hands of your other daughter, who has blood red tattooed on those hands for a reason, which is more wow. I’m sorry, but what-”
“Sveta,” my mom interrupted her. “I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for-”
“-and I don’t care,” Sveta said, more intense, talking over my mom now. “I don’t care, I don’t care. You’re sitting a few feet from your daughter who spent years with an altered mind because of Amy, and you’re talking about how you’d be perfectly okay with Amy altering brains left and right? I’m sorry, what? What?”
“It’s the matter at hand, Sveta. It may well be happening as we speak. We have to figure out how we respond to it.”
“Mom the fuck up! That’s how you respond to it!” Sveta raised her voice. That turned heads at the other end of the diner.
“I’m trying,” my mom said, sounding as pissed as I’d heard her in a while.
“You’re trying to help one daughter who might be beyond help, and you’re fucking up with the daughter who needs it.”
“Stop,” my dad said. “Let’s end this here? We’re not getting anywhere, and I think we’re talking past each other.”
You barely talked. You let mom talk and you nodded here and there to show you were listening and taking it in… and you didn’t say yes or no or judge.
“…and Victoria looks like she needs a break.”
Well, at least he paid attention to me in the midst of it.
“If we step away without actually communicating, then it’s going to be a long time before we talk to her again, she’ll get ideas in her head, and communicating next time will be that much harder.”
“We end this here,” my dad told her. “No debate. We’re probably bothering the diner’s owners.”
My mom looked over at him with the most unimpressed look. When I rose to my feet, my dad did too, and Sveta started on the process of extricating herself from the booth.
My dad and I offered her a hand, each of us taking one hand. She accepted without complaint. My mom remained in her seat, leaning back, one arm extended all the way forward, five fingernails resting against the surface of the booth’s table.
I was so ready to go. It struck me only now that we’d been sitting in the booth and nobody had come to take our orders. Maybe we’d scared them off with the latent hostility and argument.
“Let’s go meet the others,” Sveta said.
The others. Oh. I turned back toward my mom, and put my bag down. “Can I ask about Natalie?”
My mom smiled, and she acted like we hadn’t just had a heated exchange of words. “She’s well. Healing from that chest wound while spending some time away with a friend.”
“When is she back?” Sveta asked.
“She said she would be gone for two days, and she told me that yesterday. She would have emailed you.”
“She probably did, but it would have been lost in the tide of feedback and questions we’re getting.”
“I remember those moments. Use them. People ask and approach because they’re interested. You want that interest.”
“Not today,” I said. “Today is the day we consolidate.”
“Is today a special event?” my dad asked.
“Only that it’s been too long since we’ve done it,” I said, “And we really fucking need it.”
“Damn straight,” Sveta said.
“Can I give you something to pass on to Natalie?” I asked my mom.
I put my bag down and fished inside. “A bit of a thank-you for looking after Lookout and an apology for her having to put up with us while we were mind controlled. She did well.”
“I have an eye for exceptional people, Victoria,” my mom said.
I handed over the package, gift wrapped as best as I’d been able with the supplies I’d had.
“Stay in touch?” my dad asked.
I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled, looking at my mom, who still sat with her arm out, her other hand resting on the tidy little package.
“I can’t keep doing this,” I said. “Sticking my hand into the fire and getting burned.”
“We’ll talk, okay? You and me?” my dad asked.
I shrugged. My mom looked annoyed at that offer from my dad.
Irreconcilable differences, really. There wasn’t a good way to handle this.
“You know where I am,” he said.
We said our muted goodbyes. The door of the diner closed behind Sveta and I, and we stepped into the cold. My breath fogged. Sveta’s didn’t.
“The good news is that my dad extended an invite to Christmas, if you want company.”
“Come on,” I told her. “Let’s go find our teammates.”
The snow was whipping around us as we returned to the main street. I could see a guy across the road, smoking a cigarette while he leaned against a store window. He watched the snow not with wonder, but the opposite- a lack of light in his eyes.
People would die as the weather got colder. But that would be then. The future was in the future, and that future had an Amy-shaped shadow somewhere across it. The past was misery.
The present? Today? I could focus on today. We would consolidate.
All together. Strength and knowledge.
They’d already departed the train when we arrived. I’d figured the talk with my parents would be intense and problematic, but I hadn’t expected it to be long.
It was Byron with a guy with shaggy black hair and scraggly facial hair, and Erin, all sitting on the railings at the top of the stairwell. Erin gave me a wave.
Kenzie was bundled up, with pink earmuffs, hair not done up in buns, but parted, the vast majority of her hair at one side of her face, along her temple and cheek. She had a black coat, with a nice looking flannel scarf, pink and black – more bundling than was necessary for the weather.
Behind her, two women were talking- thin, both in feminine clothing. One had tan skin and light clothes, with a pixie cut, and the other had long black hair, matching clothes, and pale skin.
She spotted us, and she sprinted, running down icy steps, barely touching the railing.
“Careful!” Sveta called out.
Kenzie reached the bottom stair and threw herself at us, arms wide so one arm caught me and the other caught Sveta. Sveta slipped and, despite my efforts, ended up on the ground.
“It’s okay. I’m glad to see you too,” Sveta said. She made her way back to her feet, then parted ways with me, seizing the railing and heading up toward Erin.
“See my work? I thought we’d need to protect identities,” Kenzie said, looking up at me, her chin touching my stomach. “So I made people projection things. It keeps your body type so you can still see what clothes look like, without it getting wonky.”
“That sounds work intensive.”
The guy with shaggy black hair would be Rain then. The two girls would be Ashley and Damsel.
“It was. It is. But I couldn’t sleep anyhow, and I thought I’d do something productive while I lay in bed. And then it became a habit, I’d work until I fell asleep at my desk or until I got tired. Now working on this project makes me tired. How are you?”
“I’m okay. Tough conversation with my parents. My mom, specifically.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. She broke the hug. “I’m so happy everyone’s here.”
“Speaking of,” I said. I lowered my voice a bit. “Was there a rule you told me about hugging?”
“Listen,” I said, and I lowered my voice even more. “I don’t want to be the bad guy-”
“-or make you feel like I’m not happy to see you either. But if you had a rule about hugging, then we should keep to that rule, okay? At least until we hear different.”
“Do you have other rules?” I asked.
“Yeah. A bunch.”
“Are you following them?”
I saw her look around, like there was a way out. I didn’t want to trap her or act like my mom, but… if this was deemed important then it was important.
Part of consolidating like I wanted to meant avoiding the lies. It meant sticking to the rules and keeping things from getting shaky around the foundations.
I had my own shake. But Kenzie was especially shaky. Especially now.
“Come on. Let’s make this a good team day. We deserve one,” I told her.
She nodded with twice the energy that was necessary, no smile on her face. I reached for her shoulder, to guide her on the way up steps with ice on them, and she seized my hand in hers instead. Quick as a camera flash.
“You’re here,” the long-haired Ashley said. “After leaving us standing around in the cold for as long as you did, you really should buy us something. Tribute.”
Okay, that was Damsel then. Hair length matched. Easy.
“It’s a joke,” the other said. “You might have guessed, but we’re not really here. We’re sitting at the apartment, wrapped in blankets. We have cups of cider beside us, and a plate of those gourmet chocolates and biscuits on the coffee table.”
“That’s not fair,” I said. I looked down at Kenzie. “That’s not fair at all.”
“Do you know what’s better?” Damsel asked. “When we go buy our clothes, they’ll fit perfectly.”
“I scanned them for measurements, head to toe,” Kenzie said.
“That’s not fair at all,” I said. “That they get to stay at home with blankets and treats, and they get to go shopping?”
“Having our cake and eating it too,” Damsel said. She touched fingers to her lips and made a smacking kiss sound.
“If it’s any consolation,” the guy with the shaggy black hair said. Rain, obviously enough. “I’m here for real and I’m freezing my butt off.”
“You’re in good company,” Erin said, her arms wrapped around her body and tucked into the opening of her jacket, her body hunched over. She gave Rain a sidelong glance. “I feel weirdly disloyal, hanging out with this random guy with black hair and chin scruff.”
“I’m way cooler than that guy,” Rain-in-disguise said.
“Nuh uh,” Erin responded.
Inch over half a foot, Rain, and put your arm around her, I thought. Warm her up.
“It might help with the butt freeze if you weren’t sitting on a cold metal railing,” Sveta said.
Rain hopped down, straightened with a stretch, and then shook his head. “Yeah, no, that’s not better. Let’s get where it’s warm.”
“Let’s,” Erin said.
Byron, a little off to the side, was smiling, perfectly content in the twenty-three degree weather.
“Let’s go,” I said. “And let’s talk mission plan.”
“Is this a mission now?” Rain asked.
“Only if it keeps us organized. We’re splitting up, but I want to touch base, especially before any big purchases. That’s partially so we don’t lose track of each other. And also because I’m really, really curious what some of you are after. As far as split-up teams go, I’m with Sveta, because I owe her and we’re ridiculously overdue for this.”
“Yes,” Sveta said.
“I’m with the boys,” Erin said. “They wanted help because they’re hopeless.”
“And I’ve got the best two people to keep me company,” Kenzie said.
“Perfect,” I said. “We have practical reasons for this and those reasons include updating our costumes for the winter. You do that, we can dip into the team funds, consciences clear. Within reason.”
There were nods all around.
“Let’s stay out of trouble,” I said.