[5] See Yourself Be Yourself 5 – Acclimate
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See Yourself Be Yourself

[5] Acclimate

"Would you be cool with some music?" Lillis leaned back in the driver's seat and adjusted her towel. Her last word was followed by an extended yawn that Misty couldn't help but catch and echo in a smaller version.

The first thing that Misty did in response was shake her head before realizing she was going in the wrong direction and boldly nodded instead of timidly twisting her neck. Lillis chuckled and sniffled as he plucked a classic handkerchief out of her purse to rub her nose with.

She offered her guest a second one and urged, "Keep it. My family used to collect them all the time instead of doing the normal thing and putting some toilet paper or tissue away for later." Lillis paired her phone with her car's dashboard. She stopped at an area of the parking lot with a designated stop sign and took a few moments to scroll through her playlist.

"I'm not a big fan of classic rock. Or most of the stuff from the last century. But I do have soundtracks, electronica, and some real classics. Chopin, Bach, and Wagner. But, for you, I'll make an exception if you have a request, and my mobile data can find it." She passed a friendly grin to Misty, who sat up and wrapped the towel around her protectively.

The belt felt strange bumping up against flesh she shouldn't have had. There were enough layers to make it feel more like a physical realm of flesh static bumping up against the world, but she didn't feel comfortable in any position.

Considering her new friend's question for several seconds, Misty answered, "Just a soundtrack. Whatever your favorite is...do you need me to select that?"

Lillis made a slow right turn and sniffled against the softening dampness. "I'd appreciate it. I could ask the robot, but her accuracy sucks. Almost to the point of me wanting to wage a Butlerian Jihad. I don't have my face or my thumb in there. Passcode 52798."

Brushing back the absolute mass of her hair, made heavier by the rain that had collected on it, Misty delicately held her new friend's phone as she inputted the passcode.

Once on the main screen, she fumbled around a bit before finding the right music app. The soundtrack collection had a lot of Hans Zimmer and a lot of foreign names she didn't recognize. It was easy to sort the list, at which point she just picked the most commonly played, confirmed it, and eased back as the truck's speakers played a sweet and fluty melody. Waves of rain crackled against the glass.

She was exhausted, despite the nap she had taken at the boutique that had gobbled up most of the day. The water splattered over her body but didn't do much to relieve the emotional dehydration. She sipped from her bottle as the music in the truck's cabin wafted with floaty, restrained energy. Her neck crunched a few times as she stretched it back and forth. She reflected on the last few minutes before coming up with something to say.

"Butlerian Jihad?"

"Dune related. I've been reading the books on my breaks since the movies. The Butlerian Jihad is an event in the fictional far future. It's a revolt of human beings against artificial intelligence and other thinking machines. The restoration of humanity and our potential. But then I wonder if that's how all the psychic stuff in the books came to pass. Humanity facing terrible things before finding the golden path. I don't know how I feel about destiny, fate, and predestination. I like the line from the Terminator: There's no fate but that which we make for ourselves."

Misty blew her nose, but she listened carefully to everything Lillis said. She watched the lines of water cascade down the glass as they drove. Some bumped into each other, merging and falling quickly, and others passed side by side. So many things flowing and falling. It was like watching a screensaver from years ago.

"I don't know. I don't know if anyone can know. Just hours ago, I thought my life was going to be one way. And now it's all upside down. If all that psychology stuff is real, I am in way deep denial and just trying to keep my head above water. Maybe I'll get angry at some point, but right now I'm just broken and defeated. Sorry. And that's what's on my mind, so I'm probably not a good conversationalist right now."

At a stop, Lillis wrapped her arm around Misty, as much as she could spare. "There you go again, apologizing for stuff that isn't your responsibility. I'm just talking like a goof about dumb things. You could have just said, 'Shut up, bitch; my life got destroyed today; I don't feel like chatting'. You don't need to solve any queries or questionnaires. I'm not like her. I'm just a friend."

Misty flailed about with the B-word, making it clear that she would never use it. Lillis raised an eyebrow and asked, "Not even about your ex-girlfriend, who clearly deserves that word?" A lengthy hesitation was Misty's first answer, which Lillis noticed quite clearly. She worked around that gap and said that she would try to be the better person and not resort to something like that.

"I'm not saying you have to text her something full of expletives or scream that word in her face if you see her in your apartment. You can just let loose right now. No judgment. Just for you. Whatever you need." Again, Misty offered up a lengthy period of reflection and preparation. Her pouty lips undulated around phantom words that she felt like she really wanted to say, but several voices inside told her what she still couldn't and shouldn't say out loud. Were any of those voices echoes of Dina that she should have booted out before today?

The instrumental soundtrack with very light chanting wasn't quite the right theme for all this, but it provided an additional layer of friendly static between and beyond the scattering of droplets.

"We're going to the apartment now? Do you think that's a good idea?" That was the part that Misty decided to fixate on. Lillis nodded confidently.

"Yeah. It's your place, too. You don't have to clear it out or stay there so long if you don't feel up to it. I can go in and grab whatever you need. ID, money, mementos, technology, and your favorite soaps. Whatever will make you feel better tonight."

Misty wavered. If Dina was there, or someone else, she wasn't sure how she would handle it. She didn't want to get angry and toxic and all the other things that were spewed at her by Dina. But it was her place, and it was her stuff. It was Brent's stuff. Pronouns didn't matter, but that was also shit Dina said. What mattered to her...him?

"All right. Yeah. Let's get my stuff from that motherfucking evil monster bitch cunt witch whore narcissistic egotistic borderline manipulative betraying jerkass evil bitch cunt shit ass fuck motherfucking shit fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck bitch shit shit shit shit! Yeah..." Misty just let loose, with everything in her brain tumbling together. Her voice almost reached the level of a scream, but it felt more like a crazy spasm, barking out every word that came into her head.

"Yeah! Let it out! Elitist hoity-toity prissy no-good nick abominable whore wench. Service industry, so I've clipped out a lot of my expletives, saving them for technology rather than people. But I can still bring some out. How does that make you feel?"

Misty cleared her throat and noted that she was a little bit woozy and tingly and was now vaguely concerned that she might have blasted her blood pressure up. But it felt good to do more than just cry, hide, and feel guilty. She conveyed this sheepishly with a subtle smile.

"You poor thing. You're not used to the exertion of being determined and proud of yourself and your confidence, right?"

It was a thought that Misty wanted to refute on some level. She had been a man. Maybe not the most boastful and boisterous man in all of creation, but he thought of himself as chill and welcoming, helpful and supportive, and all the things he was supposed to be. Pride should come with a fall. Determination was fine, but you also had to be careful.

"Sure, everything can be a good or a bad, depending on how it's used. All kinds of fats, sugars, cholesterol, and all that is necessary for human existence. It's just when your body has them in the wrong proportions that it throws everything off. Emotions and perceptions can be the same way. When the system is broken, it's all about fixing it. Words and things get too much of a good or bad rap as saviors or devils. There's always nuance. If you have zero pride or zero confidence, that's going to do more harm than good. You can't just hide away and expect that avoiding things will make others and yourself safer. Sometimes you have to face the dangers. Sometimes feelings, people, and situations will hurt and get hurt. That's probably not what you need to hear right now. You're still raw. You're still screwed over. But I want you to think about that. You and your choices are not the problem. Don't punish yourself or apologize, thinking that's the remedy. And I'll leave it at that. Less me talking."

Misty found herself back in the static of all the sounds around her. She felt a little dizzy as she tried to unpack everything Lillis told her. So many of these things were subjective, and she shouldn't think badly of herself just because she had one thing or another that others called bad. But she just assumed.

Before Dina, her family... His family was very opinionated. Rather intellectual people. They had their ways, and they passed them on. Yeah, some of the things they said were absolute truths, and she took... he took them in. Good was good, and bad was bad. Evil is irredeemable, and good will prevail. The bad guy will be punished. The good guy gets rewarded. Karma finds its way, no matter what you might think.

It was silly to say out loud, and she knew people in the atheist and agnostic spaces who offered counterexamples. Between the anger raging at what Dina had done, her emotions were still kind to the girl. To hear a good explanation or to find out that it was just a test, and she hadn't really destroyed the nanoparticle-linked crystal would have been such a relief. Such a forgiving relief that she could walk back from this falling cliff of emotions that now represented her life, a runoff flow that carried her to the apartment that had once been her home.

If that repentance didn't happen, she expected something awful would befall Dina. Clearly, that was what had to happen. She had betrayed and punished her in a way that made no sense, screwed with her life, broken every layer of trust in the relationship, torn down the boundaries, and annihilated everything they had ever promised to each other in one fell swoop. Something had to happen to her, too. It was the only thing that made sense in this world. Justice would come for her.

All too soon, they were back on the familiar looping and swooping streets that Brent drove on his way home. The sight tasted so wrong. Like the familiar things were attacking her and choking like ashes in her mouth. She couldn't get used to how everything felt or didn't feel. The world was still crying, but it felt like everything else could go on but her. At least there was this one small step that Lillis was here for. Her friend. Though trust felt like a delicate, torn scab that didn't want to interact with anything around it. It was just to be wrapped up tightly and hidden until the pain went away.

She gave Lillis her keys but didn't let go. It was her duty to take care of her space, to grab her things, and not be such a… Dammit, pussy, even if Dina would rage at her for that terminology. They went together.

The apartment felt like a strange historical preserve in a low-budget museum, showcasing the artifacts and reminders of a life that was once her own, now a million miles away from her existence. Everything she really needed right now fit into one of the big travel backpacks that Dina didn't care about, and they kept stuffed in the big closet. That included the stuff that Lillis alluded to, along with Brent's favorite weighted blanket, some toiletries, the old laptop, and a silly pink stuffed animal that looked like an elephant that someone had sat on. There was more, but that was all she wanted right now. She eyed the gun-like massager, but that was really more Dina's possession, and despite the fact she could sanitize it, she didn't really want to know where it had been.

A few more passes of the space left her with the determination that they had gotten everything she really needed. That was it. No vindictive actions. No trashing. It was a small miracle that Dina hadn't left a mess here for Misty to find. And she wasn't going to stoop to her level.

In fact, she left it better than she found it. They locked the door behind them, and Misty said goodbye to that life.









[Welcome to the Seventh Book in the Cerberus Saga. Yup. We’re doing this. I never thought I would delve into such a big part of the backstory and this may be a good idea but I like writing about all sorts of characters. I have the ending of the story in mind already. But is it the ending you might expect from what you know now? We’ll see…Provisionally, I am focusing on one chapter a week and we’ll see how things go from there. They might be longer or shorter and more numerous. Always feel free to offer suggestions. Reader response is going to be very important going forward. I’m open to anything. Although the squirrel thing is probably the closest I’ll ever get to furry. I’m gonna have some fun and funny characters this time too. Dunno how long this will go. It might be much shorter due to the different pacing. I hope you enjoy it. I plan to get the earlier books together and released in an official form. Look forward to that hopefully. As always, vast details, especially types of characters, character names, and more are wide open for this narrative. Feel free to add any idea which doesn't show up in the eventual options. Also, if you see any random typos or uncapitalized starts of sentences, please pass them along. I am currently using Quillbot and DeepL to assist with speedy editing, but that’s not 100%. Thank you for reading!]

Poll after this. Since I've change the schedule, polls are more important than ever. Feel free to offer as much feedback as you can to help the story.

What story elements would you like to see?
  • Delving into what Lillis knows. Votes: 1 14.3%
  • More of Misty's life before. Votes: 0 0.0%
  • The two of them traveling. Votes: 1 14.3%
  • See friend groups. Votes: 2 28.6%
  • What Elle/Lillis' apartment looks like. Votes: 1 14.3%
  • More of the boutique. Votes: 1 14.3%
  • Familiar character cameos or appearances. Votes: 1 14.3%
  • Other [detail in a comment]. Votes: 0 0.0%
Total voters: 7