They were in the break room when it happened. Lunchtime was usually a loud affair, the two of them engaged in archaeological conspiracy theories more often than not.
But that time was quiet.
Quiet as Ambris ate her sandwich, and quiet as Daring poked at her salad. Something was wrong—it didn’t take a genius to notice—but Ambris felt at a loss for how to ask or even whether she could ask. Daring was by no means a child, already one foot towards college, but all Ambris could see at that moment was a child in pain.
And children liked presents, didn’t they?
“I have something for you,” the older woman said, putting her sandwich away and reaching for a bag next to her.
“Is it books?” Daring asked, and when Ambris gave her a look, she mustered an amused smile despite whatever was wrong. “Hey, hey. I like books.”
“I would hope so, or else I’ve taught you nothing,” Ambris replied.
A moment later, she took out three colorful photography books depicting ancient ruins on their covers. Ruins of Brayzil: A Look into History was the first, which was a must when visiting Brayzil, and the second book was a personal favorite of Ambris’: Caved In: Secrets and Treasures of the Sao Maneigh Ruins.
“Here you go,” she said, handing the precious books to her friend with a wide smile. “For you.”
Daring gingerly took the books into her hands, stunned. “Oh… Oh, wow… Missus K, this is—” She cut herself off and affection overwhelmed Ambris when she saw tears fill Daring’s eyes. Daring noticed too, and quickly wiped her eyes. “Oh, uhm, sorry.”
“They’re first editions, too. Very few left,” she added. She gestured to one of the books. “And I left a little note for you. Something to show your friends when I’m a best-selling author!”
Daring adjusted the books on her lap and then opened one of them to find an elegantly written message splashed across the first page. She read it quietly at first, and it wasn’t until her eyes watered anew that she spoke in a choked whisper:
“To the original Daring, my dear friend and constant source of inspiration. Love, Ambris Knot.”
A gentle silence hung in the air, Daring clutching the book, muted into silence by… shock? Joy? Both?
“I hope you like them,” Ambris continued. “They should prove very useful during your trip.”
Finally, the girl spoke.
“Thanks, Missus K,” she said, her voice hoarse. She wiped her eyes again and closed the book. “This is… This is really cool. Like, really. But, uhm… But…” She drifted off, one of her hands digging into her armrest as she tearfully continued, “My, uhm… my parents cancelled the trip to Brayzil.”
Now the silence hung heavy.
“…What?” Ambris gawked at the girl. “They what?”
“It-It’s okay, though!” Daring quickly exclaimed, Ambris’ shock having jolted her back. She tried to smile. “It’s fine! Really! It’s because my—” She faltered, choking on her words. “The doctor he told us about this, uhm…”And again, her nails dug into her armrests. “He told us about this experimental therapy that could—could work for me next year, and so—so my parents decided to—” Her cracking voice lowered even more. “To save up for that instead.”
“I… I’m sorry, Daring.”
“But it’s fine!” Daring insisted, wiping away at her tears. “It’s fine, really! It’s okay! It’s just experimental, but it might help me, and it’s way more important than some…” She swallowed. “Some dumb trip, anyway.”
Ambris didn’t quite know what to say. Or if she could even say anything at all. But she wanted to say something.
“Daring,” she said, lightly putting a hand on Daring’s knee, “it’s alright to be upset.”
Daring blinked at her, surprised, and then just as fast did she look down, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
“I guess… I’m just tired. I’m tired, you know? And I just wanted this one thing. Just this one dumb trip, and… And…” She swallowed hard. “I… I really wanted to go.” Before Ambris could say anything, she gritted her teeth and slammed her fist against her arm rest. “Fuck!” She then remembered Ambris was there and blushed. “Oh, shoot! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Considering what’s happened, I’ll allow it,” Ambris said, and she couldn’t help a smile when Daring, for the first time that day, laughed.
“Thanks, Missus K,” she said sincerely, still sniffling. She wiped her eyes for the last time and grinned. “I’ll be okay! I will. I can do it.”
Ambris returned the smile.
“Yes, you can.”