One day in Gearford
The two of them, Annabelle and Henry, were strolling through the streets of Gearford. Or maybe Optilocus. Annabelle remembered when it was called that, though she knew there were those who were born here who didn't. She herself was very young, but she still remembered the name. She remembered the king. She remembered before the Technocracy took over and ruined everything. She sometimes though about how she shouldn't. She shouldn't be as old as she was and still be in the job she has, and how she should be ten years younger. Although, if she were ten years younger, it she wouldn't be as wise as she was, and she wouldn't know anything except the technocracy. She still wasn't sure if that would be a good thing or not.
Henry bumped his arm against hers. "I can hear you thinking. What's going on in that head of yours?"
Annabelle rolled her eyes. "It isn't so much that I was thinking as...I'm getting old."
Henry snorted. "Not that old. You're younger than me."
"Yeah, and you have a real job. I'm just...I think the technical term is errand girl." She glanced at him. "Remember when I got arrested? Not the Button thing, but before that."
"Yeah, and you didn't show up and scared me half to death."
"Are you still going to keep bringing that up?"
Henry clenched on fist in his pocket. "I was scared. And there wasn't...you know. There wasn't anything I could do, because Patrick O'Leary has no reason to look for you."
Annabelle wanted to dispute that, but ended up just sighing. "Fair enough. Anyway, the Sergeant who questioned me didn't believe me at first, because he said I was too old to be an errand girl. And the more I thought about it, over the years, the more he's right."
"But Viradet's or whatever...her?"
"Right." Henry nodded. "She's good to you."
"Of course," Annabelle agreed quickly. "And having human lackies is a boon for her. But even still..."
"What would you do instead?" Henry countered.
"Well I wouldn't," Annabelle answered. "But I should have something else. Just because I'm bad at...having a productive life doesn't mean I shouldn't have...something. A proper job. And a husband."
"And who would you're husband be," Henry asked, almost genuinely curious.
"If I knew that, I would have married him already." Annabelle snapped. "It's not like I'm...I like men. I just...haven't met one who works. Probably because I don't have a real job. Gods, even Bernadette is married now. Or at least the two of them are planning one. And I haven't even met the right man yet."
"If it makes you feel any better," Henry offered, "I'm not married either, and I'm older than you are."
Annabelle considered that for a moment. "You are...interested, right?" She then realized what she said, "Not that there's anything wrong with...it would just be something I should know."
Henry half laughed. "I know what you mean. And I think I am, but I'm also on the run using a dead man's name, and my job doesn't leave me much time to do anything else. Unless you happened to know a girl who was looking to marry a fake Ninixian."
Annabelle considered. "Grace is looking for a man. She's sick of being just with her brother all the time. He's also looking for a man, but it's a lot harder, and he's too focused on Grace anyway."
"So if you manage to put us together," Henry said, a slight grin forming on his lips, "Will you be always the match maker never the match?"
Annabelle shoved him as hard as she could. Henry just laughed and leaned into the momentum. After a moment, Annabelle smiled as well. "I guess it isn't all bad. Age is just a number, right?"
"Tell that to my aching joints," Henry shot back.
Annabelle rolled here eyes. "That's not age, that's overwork. I got wrist aches when I worked the factory line, and I wasn't even fifteen yet." She glanced up at the sun. "Should we loop back around, make sure you don't miss your train?"
Henry sighed. "I suppose so. No more angst and melancholy while I'm gone though, you hear me?"
"I will not think about the crushing inevitably of aging," Annabelle said, tone not quite serious, "Merely the cruel inadequacy of our government."
Henry slung his arm around her shoulder. "I suppose that will have to do. So, will you introduce me to Grace the next time I come in to town?"
Annabelle considered that. "I think I will, if Oslo can get away with just Bernadette for an hour or two. You'd like her, I think."
The two of them made their way back toward the station, and Annabelle considered how she might get Grace down to the station the next time the train came in. Her grandmother had once said that nothing would change unless she changed it. And maybe, maybe she didn't need to change anything, but maybe she could, just to see if she could make something a little better.