As I walked into the common room, security guard behind me, my heart leapt. There was Lexia, with Nora, sitting in our corner. Lexia had snagged the new pack of cards, and was shuffling them in lightning motions, faster than Nora ever could. I sat down beside her, new tunic itching my back.
“You got the new cards,” I said, smiling.
Lexia grinned, straight white teeth flashing in the dull light. I was insanely jealous of her teeth. “Yeah,” she said. “Pretty good, huh?” She flipped her bright red plait over her shoulder. “I was one of the first people in here, even before Nora. The guards must have switched a rotation or something. I was gonna grab the pool table, but then I though, no, maybe not!”
Lexia and I both peeked over at the huge hulking men, hovering over the pool table, their long pony-tails spilling down their muscled backs. We grinned at each other and tittered.
I glanced at Nora. She was napping again, leaning against the wall heavily, like it was a walking stick. Her hair was frizzing around her face in the humid atmosphere, the French-braided headband Lexia and I did for her, coming apart. We’d have to do it again later, maybe different this time.
Lexia elbowed me. “Snap for a warm up game, Connie? Then we can play poker, Nora likes that.”
Nora started awake at the mention of her name, or perhaps at the mention of the word ‘poker’. She glared at us sharply, thin lips pursed, hazel eyes watchful. Lexia dealt out three even piles of cards, and the game began, Nora going first.
Even though she was old, Nora won the first few rounds. Lexia and I still can’t beat her. She’s quick for an old woman.
After an intense game of poker, Lexia and I redid Nora’s hair. We braided it in a beautiful coronet around her head. Lexia did mine in a long braid down my back. Then I did Lexia’s hair in two pigtail braids. We were both giggling about something when Nora said: “Girls.”
We both looked at her, taken aback by the severity in her tone. “Yeah?” said Lexia hesitantly.
Nora regarded us, hazel eyes hard; mouth in a thin line. “If you were told to do something, would you do it? If you were told it was important? Vital?”
I fastened the end of Lexia’s braid and knelt down beside her, tunic riding up. “It depends on what we were told to do.”
“And who by,” added Lexia.
Nora glanced at the door guard, then leaned in and whispered, “If you were told to do something extremely risky, would you do it?”
“It depends,” I said.
“Connie,” breathed Lexia in warning, hazel eyes glittering with worry. Nora had become more and more prone to this kind of talk. She even once said that we’d be better off taking our chances out there. Talking about the outside world was something akin to blasphemy in Fletcher’s. Lexia and I had agreed not encourage Nora, but I sensed something different this time when she talked. A sense of urgency.
“It depends on the consequences,” I finished.
“What if, the consequences were great,” murmured Nora seriously. “But it was the most important decision of your life? Connie? Lexia?”
I looked at Lexia, and she looked at me. “I’d take the risk,” said Lexia.
“So would I.”
“Good.” Nora leaned back against the wall once more, her urgent fervour gone. She nodded. “Good. Remember that. Take the risk.” Her head touched her chest and a gentle snore emanated from her.
Lexia and I shared an anxious glance.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Lexia quietly.
“Should we be worried?”
“I think so.”