Helena finds the box way in the back of the bedroom closet. It’s behind the Christmas tree ornaments, behind the box labeled in Myka’s careful handwriting ‘Tax Receipts ’31-'38,’ underneath Helena’s bound Master’s thesis and two photo albums. Still further back, trapped against the wall, is Myka’s father’s manuscript, yellowed and dusty, still sealed with a twine bow as it was when Myka’s mother passed it on to her.
Helena pulls the box down, climbs down the stepladder carefully, brings it into better light, by the window. It’s not much larger than a shoebox, and shallower; made of jointed wood, polished once upon a time. Now it's dusty, just along one edge, where it didn't line up with the books that covered it.
Helena doesn’t open the box. Finding something she doesn’t recognize in her own room is such a novelty. An unexpected surprise in the midst of her recent days, which have been full of discussions and low-grade arguments and half-empty boxes labeled “donate” or “toss.” A kitchen table of careful piles of who might want to keep what. There won’t be room in the new house for everything they’ve gathered in this one.
Helena doesn’t open it, but curiosity compels her to leave the bedroom, box in hand, weave her way through larger, cardboard boxes dotting the hall, and down to the living room, where Myka is folding laundry and humming absently to herself.
“Myka, love? Is this yours?” Helena holds it out for her to see.
Curiosity brought Helena to Myka; now anticipation tugs at her while Myka finishes folding a towel, as she flattens it down neatly, as she holds out her hands and Helena passes the box to her.
Myka looks down and cocks her head in that way that always brings at least the beginnings of a smile to Helena’s lips, no matter what the circumstance. It doesn’t matter what holds Myka’s attention. That look of interest, of inquiry, of examination – Helena can’t get enough of it, and probably never will.
“Hmm,” Myka says, after a beat. “I’m not sure. Should I know it?”
“I don’t know.” Helena shakes her head slightly. “It was in the back of the closet. I’ve never seen it before. Shall we open it, then?”
Myka is already doing so, her fingers finding the lip of the box and pulling upward gently. It opens soundlessly, though Myka draws in a breath as she looks inside. She puts a hand out behind her, finding the arm of their sofa without looking and sitting down carefully. Helena peers down curiously, tilting her head to the side to see around Myka’s grey halo of curls.
What meets her eyes only fills her with more curiosity: there are, perhaps, two dozen objects scattered on a piece of creamy satin glued to the inside. Pebbles. A feather. A dried flower. A piece of paper, or two. A faded bit of cloth. Nothing that she recognizes immediately. And when she brings her eyes up to Myka’s face, possibly nothing that Myka recognizes, either.
(Though that isn’t so surprising: Myka’s memory is not what it used to be. She still knows Helena, of course. And Claudia, when she stops by. She recognizes Steve, and their neighbors. She keeps their houseplants alive, and she still quotes long passages of her favorite stories, word for word.
But Helena sees her blink once, twice, trying, where once there was no need. Helena would never draw attention to it, just as Myka would never point out what’s changed, what’s been lost to Helena, either. Myka didn't say a word when Helena tripped on the steps twice in a week coming home from their morning walk. Helena just came home, one day, groceries in hand, to find Steve’s son putting in a handrail on their front porch stairs, and as she unpacked them, another one on the steps down to the garden while he was at it.)
Myka has been staring down at the contents of the box for what feels like an eon to Helena’s anxious heart, when she suddenly lets out a little bark of laughter and reaches down for a stone.
“Helena. You should remember this!” Myka’s voice is filled with amusement. Helena sinks down next to her and holds out her hand. Myka’s fingertips brush Helena's when she lets the stone go. Helena lets it slide into the palm of her hand. It’s smooth to her touch, flat and rounded on three sides, about the size of a penny, with a black mark through the center of it.
“I should? It is lovely…” Helena turns it over again, noting that the black mark extends all the way around.
“You gave it to me, Helena. Let’s see, it was… twenty-thirty-three. Yes. April. We were at Moonstone Beach, in California, and it was nearly high tide, foggy and windy. You kept complaining about your hair in your face, but you wouldn’t take one of my elastics. You had on my jacket, I remember, because you’d ruined yours in the retrieval, and so then I was shivery. You put your arm around me, and then you said, ‘oh look, Myka, a lucky stone,’ and bent to pick this up. You told me that finding a stone with a ring all around it meant good fortune, and then you told me that despite it sounding like a myth it was in actual fact true, because you were extremely lucky. And you kissed me in the fog and you had mist all in your eyelashes and you were so beautiful, Helena – so beautiful. I’ll never forget it. And I put this stone in my pocket and I kept it until we got home, and then… then I put it in my Helena box.”
Myka’s eyes light up and she tugs the box closer to her, both hands curling underneath, cradling it to her chest carefully. “That’s what this is. This is my Helena box!”
Helena finds that her throat’s closed nearly entirely. “Your… your Helena box?”
“Yes!” Myka carefully plucks a papery, rusty red flower out and places it gently in Helena’s hand, next to the stone. “Look – here’s the rose you gave me at Claudia’s wedding. I’m pretty sure you stole it right out of her bouquet, but you would never confess to that.”
Helena grins. “I remember that day. I did take it, but it was after the ceremony, so I’m reasonably certain it was fair game. And it was lucky as well, in my opinion.”
Myka leans over and kisses Helena on the cheek. “Silly. That wasn’t luck. You didn’t need any luck.”
“Courage, then, perhaps.”
“Like I would ever have said no.” Myka leans into Helena, tucking her head into the crook of her neck as Helena snakes an arm around Myka’s shoulder, a gesture performed so many times it’s become seamless, nearly unconscious.
They stay that way, until Myka suddenly straightens up and picks out another stone, this one dark grey and utterly without features. She holds it up between two fingers towards Helena, her smile gleeful. “Look, here’s a stone from the path to our first apartment – you remember that place, right?”
“Our Escape Hatch? Of course I do. I don’t remember the path having stones, though.”
“It didn’t, really. I found this one on the concrete one day and it seemed fortuitous.”
Helena spies something yellow and square underneath a crow’s feather, and her breath catches as she spots her own handwriting. “May I?”
Helena peels the piece of paper away from the bottom. “Myka, you kept this? But this was long before…”
“Before us? Yes. I don’t know. I can’t explain why. I had… a feeling? I called it evidence at the time, of course. But I didn’t put it in your file, I hid it in my copy of The Invisible Man and pretended I forgot about it.”
Myka picks up a scalloped shell next, then the feather. They sit for hours, until the late afternoon sun slants through the window, shining through Myka’s hair and filling the room with warm pools of light. Myka tells Helena a story for every object in the box, until there’s only one left, one that had been hiding underneath one of Helena’s treasured pocket handkerchiefs.
They both stare at it.
“Well now, Helena, there’s no way at all you don’t remember where this came from.”
“No.” Helena replies quietly. “This one, I know.”
“Well then. I’ve been doing all the talking. Your turn to tell me a story, H.G. Wells.”
Helena smiles at Myka, then carefully, lovingly, replaces each item she’s holding in her hands back to where they belong. Only then does she reach back among them and pull out the loop of wire. It’s striped blue and white, darkened from oil along the inside, with a twist of copper where the join is.
“One day, Myka, one day a long, long time ago, you came into my lab at the Warehouse. It was quite late, and you had only just returned from a retrieval. I had been up for far too long, because even then I didn’t sleep well when you were away – ah. Perhaps you didn’t know that?” The amused look on Myka’s face confirms Helena’s hypothesis. “Well. Anyway, darling, you sat across from me, pulled yourself right up on a table amongst all my bits and pieces, and you were so tired and upset. The retrieval hadn’t gone well at all, and you felt responsible - of course you did, you always did – for the trauma you’d caused a couple whilst doing your job. They’d been separated as an effect from the artifact for days before you could reunite them. And you told me how they’d been so relieved to be back together, how they’d cried and held onto each other like they hadn’t seen each other in years. And you asked me, possibly rhetorically, if anyone would ever miss you that way. If you’d ever know what it was to be wanted, needed in that way.”
Myka nods. “I was… well, you know. The job can get to you. Not just in the moment, but.. and all the examples I had. Crazy, evil, or dead, right?”
“Yes, absolutely. So there you were, and there I was, and I couldn’t not say it. I told you that I would miss you that way, if you’d let me. And you looked up at me, and said, ‘really?’ with this catch in your voice. And I told you, ‘yes really,’ and I stepped in, and -”
“And you kissed me.” Myka’s face is warm, peaceful, joyous.
“…and I kissed you. I thought this one was mine to tell?”
“Sorry. Sorry. I just like this part a lot.”
“So do I, love. I kissed you, and then I stepped back, and I was about to say something very silly like, ‘I beg your pardon, I don’t know what came over me,’ but I didn’t get a chance, because you grabbed me and pulled me back to you, and then you kissed me.”
Helena pauses, and holds out her spare hand for Myka, who grabs it firmly and laces her fingers through Helena’s. “Then, you stepped back, Myka my darling, and you said, ‘but how do I know you mean it’? And I told you, ‘you can’t, not today, but I’ll show you, every day until you know that I do,’ and I reached over and grabbed this piece of wire and I put it around your wrist. ‘It’s no ring, and even I know that it's moving ludicrously fast,’ I told you then, ‘but it is nice to have something to look at when you’re not sure. So perhaps this will do for now.’”
Helena pauses. “But Myka, I always wondered what happened to this – if you thought it was just too unspeakably corny, or an overstep, or not enough. I haven’t seen this wire since the day I gave it to you.”
Myka shakes her head. “No, it was none of those things. I wanted to believe you, Helena. But I couldn’t just leave it… wearing it out in the world felt like a declaration. And I wasn’t ready for that, you know? So I kept it in my room, and I took it out and I wore it sometimes, just for myself, and then, one day I didn’t need it anymore. Because you did show me, even if it took me a while to let myself believe it. And the day I realized I didn’t need this anymore was the day I started the Helena box.”
Myka stands suddenly, then, and blinks hard, determinedly. “Well then, Helena. Where do we sort this box? Do we donate it?” She says it lightly, as if they’re talking about extra dish towels, and makes her way to the kitchen table. ”Should we give it to a friend?”
Helena rises, crosses to tuck herself in behind Myka, arms folding around her. “I know you’re teasing - but it’s your box. Where would you like it to go?”
They stand together in their home, the real home they built together over many years. Over family dinners and late night movies and baking. Over arguments and tears and deep hurts, and then reconciliations and apologies and kisses. Helena wishes she couldn’t count the number of days they still have in it, even as she knows the new place they’ve chosen is better in many ways. Closer to people who care for them - Claudia and her partner are right down the street. Steve's son and his family are only a mile away. It’s practical. And wherever Myka is, Helena will be home. Still.
Myka turns around, still in Helena’s embrace, and now tears stand in her eyes. “You.”
Helena jolts from her musings. “Me, what?”
“I would like this box to go with you. And the next time we find it, you tell me the stories. In case I… just in case. Can you do that for me?”
Helena drops her hands and takes the box from Myka carefully. Reverently. “I can do that, my love. My darling. Oh, Myka. It's going to be alright.” The box finds its way to a clear bit of table, and Helena’s arms are back around Myka.
“I just worry,” Myka chokes out. “I worry that I’ll get lost, you know? I’ll get lost if I don’t know where I’ve been anymore.”
“You won’t get lost. I’ll be here.” Helena softly kisses Myka’s cheeks, her lips, runs her fingers through Myka’s hair. “I’ll tell you where you’ve been – where we’ve been. Anytime you need. I promise.”