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Edie, May 11, 2055
I hate it when I find myself doing something and I don't know why. Somehow that seems to happen a lot around my brother, Matt. This time he wanted me to accompany him on a visit to his fiancee, Adelle. I didn't know why and frankly, I didn't really care at the time. My other brother Jon was supposed to be arriving back from the North today, but Matt's invitation gave me a chance to ride in his new car. Usually I get around on bike and foot, so the Faraday was a treat.
Adelle lived on the far side of town and it took a while to get there. There were a sprinkling of cars on the road and a lot of bikes. Centre City is one of those instant cities set up for the first wave of American climate refugees fleeing the drought in the twenties. It's not what you would call rich, just a small university town.
As a rule, you can't shut Matt up. He's always got another angle, another idea, another deal to try out for size, but this day, he was quiet, pensive even and that made me wonder. I talked a little about my research, but he didn't care about photosynthesis. I ended up gazing out the window, musing how the downtown had changed from rock and bush to a glass and metal monstrosity in my short life. Matt was content to let me daydream.
Matt and Adelle were an odd couple. He was annoyingly self-confident --- driven and nerdish. She was suave and social. He was presentable, but not handsome. She was a blonde goddess. The thing they shared was being clued-in smart. My eyes drifted to Matt. With his dark hair and moustache, and I couldn't help but wonder what their children would be like.
Adelle lived in more of a cottage than a house, one of those post-oilcrunch thick-walled places with lots of insulation and a photovoltaic roof. It was a warm spring day. The sun was bright and there was not a cloud in the sky. The yard was full of flowers and exotic plants.
When we stepped out, a newseye, probably drawn by the car, passed us and drifted towards the house. There were no markings to indicate whether it was corporate or ConSec. I ignored it, but Matt took a swipe at it when it got a little too close. The newseye scooted back in an algorithmic retreat.
Matt rang the doorbell, waited five seconds and then tried the door. It opened, so he went inside. I hesitated, then followed, even though I felt like I was intruding.
Adelle was just coming out of the kitchen with a steaming cup in each hand. A thin, dark haired woman with a prominent forehead and a starkly white face sat on an easy chair in the front room. I found myself wanting to stare. She was almost beautiful. Her forehead gave her a bony big headed look. When she lifted her arm, her clothing moved and I realized she was pregnant.
"So you brought backup," said Adelle sarcastically.
Suddenly I realized I was on a battlefield.
Matt looked at me and didn't reply. I half expected Adelle to throw one of the cups at him the way she glared. I tried to get offstage, perching awkwardly on the edge of the couch.
The pregnant girl was looking back and forth between Matt and me in disbelief. Finally she fixed on me and said, "You're not Matthew."
It struck me as funny, but I didn't dare laugh. I managed a tense smile. "No. My name is Luc."
She looked at Adelle and some understanding passed between them. Adelle stepped forward to put the tea down on a glass topped coffee table. Matt stepped back.
Nobody was talking. I felt quite awkward, so I tried to fill the silence with reassuring noise. "We're monozygotic triplets. Our other brother is Jon."
I could see that she didn't know the word, so I added "Identical triplets."
The pregnant woman responded in a dreamlike voice. "I heard there were three of you, but I never dreamed you were so much alike."
The silence between Matt and Adelle was turning into a staring contest. I tried to keep it light. "We're pretty much the same, except Jon has a scar on his left pinky finger and Matt has a birthmark..."
"On his thigh," finished the still nameless woman.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" Adelle hissed at Matt.
"What can I say? I love you both."
"But not enough to let either of us know what was going on."
Matt hung his head.
When it became clear he was not going to answer, Adelle turned and picked up a small jewel box from the top of an ornate china cabinet behind her. "I was going to marry you, you bastard, and you still couldn't be honest." She flung the box at Matt and he caught it reflexively.
Matt glanced at me and nodded. He was leaving.
"Before you run away, there is a little matter of paternity here," said Adelle putting her hand on the woman's shoulder.
"My lawyer will be in touch with Edie. I will see to it she and the child are cared for."
"Your lawyer?" said the woman, who was evidently named Edie. "I want you, not your money."
Adelle gave her such a look of world weary resignation.
Matt stepped back again and Edie became alarmed. "Matthew, don't go," she said holding out her hand.
Matt glanced at me again and moved toward the door. Edie started to whimper. Suddenly Matt was out the door and I was alone with the two women, one crying, the other furious.
"I don't know what I can say. I'm sorry. I didn't know," I stammered and headed out the door as well.
Matt and I did not say a word all the way home. I was furious at being used. When we pulled into the yard, Matt turned to me and said, "I know you have to tell Jon, but please let me tell dad."
I nodded and got out of the car without speaking.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.