When Elwin eventually arrived at the café in his condominium building later that afternoon Kylie had drifted off to sleep, her head resting in her arms on the table. Elwin cautiously sat down but bumped his knee on the table leg waking the sleeper. Kylie jerked upright her face contorted from much crying she stared at Elwin for a few moments before she managed to speak.
“Elwin! You came! I thought you had forgotten me, here is your lunch,” she passed him the sandwich which was now soggy. Elwin didn’t complain, but thanked her quietly for the sandwich and for waiting for him. Wearily he started to eat the sandwich. Kylie watched him and slowly it occurred to her how dirty and soot covered he was. Although Elwin often worked in the coal mines he didn’t typically look this bad. She inquired and he related to her the incident with the Kellite engineer. He did so in flat even tones betraying no anger.
“I have listened to you telling me of the Kellite engineer and how he treated you. I can tell that you are not angry, but allow me to say that I feel angry. I do not know why because this engineer was one of our betters and one shouldn’t question them. Yet all the same part of me burns with fury that he should do this to you.”
Elwin felt too uneasy to make eye contact with her so he continued to focus on the remains of his soggy sandwich. He felt a sense of confusion: on one hand he was pleased that she was angry, on the other hand he felt angry with her for speaking ill of a Kellite. It scared him think that perhaps the treatment he had received was somehow unjust. If the Kellite engineer had been unjust then many other threads threatened to come loose from Elwin’s mental fabric. He did not know why, but it still felt somewhat important to keep those threads safe, and so he pushed the idea aside and focused again on the sandwich. Besides, the thorn in his chest hurt less when he avoided thinking about such things.
Kylie felt pained from hearing Elwin’s account. She felt certain that Elwin had been done wrong and so she told him, but was careful not to labour her point. After being chastised by Edith and Erian for her honesty, she felt too shy to risk continuing this trend.
Elwin glanced up at her shyly, himself wary of making eye-contact with her. He was concerned that Erian would be upset with him for not going to work with him this morning, and even more upset if he discovered that Kylie had given him lunch. He wanted to finish this lunch as quickly as possible.
Kylie decided to ask the question Elwin was too afraid to ask her, “So, why did I want to meet you today?”
Elwin nodded wearily. Kylie continued, “Elwin, first of all, I would like to thank you for removing my,” she glanced at the people on the tables nearby, “for removing my… blockage from my toilet, you know what I mean.”
“Ever since then, I have felt different. Really different. I feel like I haven’t felt since I was fourteen and at the school and it was a good sunny day. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about things. Like I can actually think about something, just one thing without distraction for hours. Normally I feel like I have ants in my pants and can’t sit still or stop thinking about something different every two seconds. But I feel much better now, it’s like a fog has been lifted from my mind and I can think clearly again. So after thinking about it all night, I think I would like to do it again.”
Elwin looked at her with alarm.
“Yes, I would like to,” she shoved the back of her hand towards him. Her hand was covered in the black web of the thorns, “I would like this one unblocked too.”
Anticipating Elwin’s response, Kylie continued, “Yes, I know it will look, obvious, but I thought about that last night too. I was thinking that maybe if you could ask your Kellite friend for some black paint and brushes, well, who could tell if it was real or not?”
Elwin was froze in terror. It had never occurred to him the Kylie would react this way to having a thorn. Part of him had expected her to get sick and die, not grow more confident and assertive. Since the removal of her thorn Kylie had been behaving differently. Normally she was constantly twitching and moving about. It was normal for her to be standing or talking to someone at the same time. Today she had been sitting reading quietly by herself completely engrossed in what she had been doing. The times Elwin most noticed Kylie was when she was giggling and flirting with a random man each day. Yet, Elwin had not noticed her doing anything of the sort the past few days.
Even the way she spoke was different, her tone of voice was lower and she talked in slower measured syllables. Although Erian had suspected that the thorns may in fact weaken Delphorians, it had not occurred to Elwin to think that if he was right about this then a person’s entire personality might change. Kylie’s personality had changed from someone who was nervous and easily excitable to someone calm and thoughtful.
Elwin felt anxious about this whole endeavour. Since removing a thorn may completely alter a person’s personality it raised the question of what would happen to him if one of his thorns were removed. Would he still be the same person? Would losing a thorn destroy his old self and replace him with an entirely different person? Would his old self die?
“I don’t think it is a good idea to ask her for something like that. She might get suspicious,” murmured Elwin.
Kylie pressed him to change his mind, but the fear had decided it for Elwin, he would not ask her. He didn’t want to risk removing another thorn, especially the one on the back of Kylie’s hand as it was sure to be noticed eventually. Kylie stopped pressing him and sat there silently watching him finish off the last of his meal.
“Elwin, what if I promise to sleep with you, would you ask her then?”
Elwin looked up at her with surprise. Her voice had been hollow and meek as she uttered the question, as though she were offering to give up something hugely valuable and she wasn’t sure she wanted to give it up. This woman had slept with so many men before without the slightest hesitation that Elwin had been aware of, but here she was looking sickly just making the suggestion to Elwin. Elwin considered it for a few seconds and then shook his head.
Kylie shivered and let out a pained shrill laugh, “you know Elwin, I like you, I have always liked you, because I suspected that you would say ‘no’ to me if I ever offered my body to you. Even right now, I feel more impressed by you than ever because now I know you would have said ‘no’ before. But I didn’t think it would ever hurt so much to hear you say it to me,” her voice trailed off as fresh tears rush up and strangled her voice.
Elwin started to mumble an awkward apology but Kylie cut him off.
“No. Don’t apologise, it was silly of me to even make that suggestion. I know you better than that.”
Kylie looked away for a few moments lost in her thoughts. She gazed across towards the table that Edith had sat at earlier.
“Elwin, if you ask Rebekah, just ask her for that black pain and brush, I promise I will talk to Edith and tell her that you are the most amazing man there is around here.”
Elwin blushed, and even through the residual coal dust on this face it was still clear he was blushing. Fearing another rejection if she pushed it Kylie rushed in again to say, “Don’t decide now, just think about it, and let me know what you decide.”
Kylie stood up to go, “thank you Elwin, thank you so much for all you have done for me.”
She leant over and kissed him on the top of his dirty head, then turned and ran away.