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By Chance

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Lilith is, to use a juvenile teenage phrase that she would never use were she not completely at the end of her tether, so done.

She hates children, she has decided. Trying to make a class of delinquent teens shut up and listen to her fascinating presentation on Jacobian architectural flourishes has left her moments from a nervous breakdown, and she needs to get out of the school building. There are stacks of their mediocre essays on her desk waiting to be graded, and she will get to them tomorrow. For now, she needs tea.

She has to walk two blocks to a decent café to get tea, stewing in fury and frustration all the way.

"How dare they question my authority," she fumes. "How dare they show up with their cell phones and their impatience and their football games?"

"Excuse me, are you all right?"

Lilith whips around prepared to give whoever is asking her stupid questions a piece of her mind. It's a nondescript man in an orange fluorescent vest, standing next to a parking meter, and looking concerned for the safety of everyone nearby.

"Do you have children?" Lilith asks. The man shakes his head, frowning at her in confusion.

"That's a good decision. Never have children. Children are the scum of the Earth and the spawn of the devil, and we would be better off if they were all sensibly quarantined somewhere far away from us until they were old enough to function in polite society."

"Yeah, probably," the man says. "Two days ago, some kid stole his mom's car, took it for a joyride, and squished my meter maid car. It was destroyed. All I could give him was a parking ticket and a stern talking-to."

"I can't even give my children parking tickets! I can't hit them because it's inhumane, I can't suspend them because it goes on their permanent record, and I can't even shout at them without them recording it and putting it on social media. What am I supposed to do to make them listen to me?"

"I'd love to keep listening," he interrupts, "but I do have a job to get done. So, uh …"

Lilith delivers a murderous scowl that has him shrinking back.

"Your job is public service, right?" she asks, fake-sweet, and he mumbles "I guess so."

"Then you could perform a service to the public by listening to me and stopping me from committing a homicide."

The man looks terrified for a moment, then he tilts his head in confusion and finally smiles.

"Well, I don't see how my supervisors could object to me being in hot pursuit of a suspect. Two-hour break for Steve!"

Lilith gets herself a cup of black tea, and pays for Steve's blueberry muffin because she feels generous. They sit in the corner of a coffee shop filled with people, and the complaining about children soon turns into complaining about all their troubles.

"When I was growing up, I thought police officers had an important job. I thought, 'protecting people? Guns? Sign me up!' and now I'm a meter maid. My mom is so disappointed in me."

"Your mother's thoughts on your career are irrelevant," Lilith says. "My mother was always disappointed in me, and I never listened to her, and now look where I am! I'm a disappointment."

"I regret every choice I ever made," Steve says in a worryingly casual voice. A woman one table over gives him a concerned look.

"I should have gotten a PhD. Then I'd be able to stay in my office looking at old books all day, and I'd never have to deal with people."

"I should have died when I was six years old and I got hit by a car. But I didn't, medical miracle and all that, and now I'm a meter maid."

"I should have told my sister I loved her."

Lilith stops short in surprise. She was just supposed to be complaining about her job, not Eda.

"Is your sister dead?" Steve asks, rather than continuing with the vague rants that neither of them expect an answer to, and it startles her.

"No, she's not dead."

"Is she in prison? Lost in the Amazon? So far off the grid she doesn't have a phone?"

"No, no, and no."

"Then what's stopping you?" Steve asks, picking up the crumbs of his muffin.

"You don't understand," Lilith says, feeling the beginning of a sob in the back of her throat. "Edalyn and I – we had a fight, and we haven't spoken in many years because of it."

"You could still go talk to her," Steve points out, and Lilith is very annoyed by how right he is.

"Oh, well, if it's that easy, why don't you quit your job and go follow your dreams?" she snaps.

"You know what? Maybe I will!" Steve says, and stands up so abruptly that he flips the table over. "And if I can quit my job, buy a motorcycle, and tour the country, I'm sure you can make one phone call to your sister!"

"Fine, then I will!" Lilith shouts, not even caring that they're in a crowded café. "I'll do it, because I'm not some sort of coward!"

Lilith doesn't know Edalyn's phone number, but she still has her address, and that's good enough. Lilith drives the two hours upstate fuming, and never pauses to question exactly why she's doing this.

That's a lie. She spends a lot of time wondering why, after more than a decade, she thought it was a good idea to go talk to Eda now. But she also spends a lot of time convinced that no traffic cop is going to be braver than she is, and a lot of time miserable that she let her sister and best friend slip away from her because of a stupid fight.

Edalyn opens her door, stares at Lilith for a second, and then shuts the door in her face.

The funny part is that she hasn't changed at all. Her hair is now a stark white, likely the result of her messing around with chemicals as usual, but her face looks the same as it did at eighteen. The only difference is that she's not smiling. Eda was always smiling when they were kids.

Lilith has come this far, and she's not going to let a closed door stand in her way now.

"OPEN THE DOOR!" she screams through the mail slot. No response.

"I LOVE YOU! I'M SORRY! JUST OPEN THE DOOR!"

The door swings open slower than continental drift. Lilith waits.

"Stop shouting," Eda says. "If you want to talk, come in."

Her face is still stoic and lined, but Lilith is counting this as a major victory. In your face, Steve!

Six months later.

Lilith steps out of the school an hour later than usual, and much less done with everything.

Eda may be a wild card, but she's a genuinely good teacher, and Lilith has picked up ways of keeping the students interested. In particular, the History Club. Students can show up to meetings and present on historical topics they love, or ask for help on things they don't understand. Lilith mostly just sits in the background and listens to students who write essays with the competency of mentally challenged gorillas expound in astonishing detail on the role of religion in the French Revolution. She did say that the students won't be getting extra credit for the club, but she might have to change that.

The street is fairly empty, the student pickup rush over, and the only vehicle waiting at the curb is a motorcycle. Lilith prepares to turn up her nose at the gas-guzzling, noisy, abomination and go take the bus, but the man standing next to the motorcycle seems vaguely familiar.

"Hey, Lilith!"

Lilith whips around.

"Steve?"

"How's it going?" Steve asks cheerfully.

"It's going well," Lilith says. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing here?"

"I just thought I'd stop by and see how you were. I mean, we had one conversation six months ago in which we both ended up deciding to do things we'd been putting off for years, and then never saw each other again. Can't blame me for being curious."

"I talked to my sister," Lilith says. "We apologized, and now we get along. It's not the same as it was, but sometimes we complain to each other about work and share advice. I don't think we'll ever be as close as we used to be, but we talk."

"That's great!" Steve says. "I'm so proud of you for being brave enough to make up with her."

"Thank you," Lilith says, not entirely sure if she's being insulted or not. "I see you bought a motorcycle."

"Yep. I went all over the continent with this girl. I didn't even realize I was passing back through here until I saw the school building, and now there's reminiscing and heartfelt conversations for Steve. Do you need a ride?"

Lilith does not need a ride. She has a bus to catch, and motorcycles are murderous death traps.

"Yes, I do," Lilith says, and hops up onto the motorcycle behind Steve, clutching at her skirts. "I'll give you directions. Don't go more than three miles per hour, please, that's the safest in case of accidents."

Steve smiles at her and revs the engine.

"You got it. One very slow motorcycle commute for Steve and Lilith."