Regina is somewhat nonplussed by this revelation.
“Yeah,” she says. “They’ve been green. It’s called nail polish. Some reason that concerns you?”
I hold out my right arm, which of course looks perfectly normal at this point. “It, ah — your hand. I grew one over my hand.”
Faced with this explanation, Regina quite reasonably says, “What?”
I squinch my face and wave vaguely at her, retreating to my room. I return with the skin I shed earlier and offer the grisly ribbon to Regina. She shies away.
“What is that? I’m not touching it.”
“No, look! It grew on my arm last night. It’s you, I think.” I uncrumple the skin and lay it on the table, pointing to the thumb in particular. Regina hesitantly places her arm next to it.
The skin tone is an exact match, and the thumbnail is the precise shade of green that Regina’s wearing. What’s more, there’s even a slight chip out of the top of her nail that’s been mirrored in the skin I grew. There’s no question about it: this is a copy of Regina’s arm.
“Why did you grow a fake version of my arm?” asks Regina in disgust, proving that there are some questions about it after all.
“I don’t know! I didn’t do it on purpose. I woke up and it was there.”
“So if you’d slept longer, you would have woken up looking entirely like me? How would that even work? You’re like six feet tall.”
“Why are you acting like I know the answers to this? I have no idea! This just showed up. I don’t know what it is, how it works or what I’m supposed to do with it.”
“Yeah? I mean, when I got my rain affinity, I could feel it. I knew that the weather wanted to touch me. I didn’t know everything about it at first, so I had to feel my way around a bit, but I had the general idea.” Regina looks wistful, as she usually does when talking about having been able to control the weather.
“I’ve been getting a raw deal, then. Mine have always been a surprise when they first show up, and then it’s a matter of bumbling around until I figure out how to activate them again.”
“Maybe you need to be more in tune with yourself. You should try some meditation or yoga.”
“I’m serious!” Regina says earnestly. “Come on, I can teach you some basics. What else did you have planned today anyway?”
“Well, not yoga can wait. We’re doing yoga first.”
“First we are doing coffee. Then we’ll see about yoga.”
Regina knows she’s won, but manages to keep from smirking at me while I drink my coffee as slowly as possible. By the time I reach the end of the cup, I’m reluctantly ready to face my fate.
“Come on, let’s go downstairs,” Regina says, taking me by the hand to lead me there. I cast one last glance back at the coffee pot, still half-full on the warmer, as I exit the room.
At Regina’s direction, I move the couch aside and stand in something called mountain pose, which involves standing straight up. So far, yoga is easy.
Regina starts to ramble on about how I should be feeling the energy of my body flowing, and in fairness, I give it a shot. The first thing that I feel, though, is my stomach rumbling, which makes me think about how I haven’t had breakfast, and that’s pretty much where my train of thought stops.
I spend the rest of the yoga session thinking about omelettes and home fries, while Regina tells me to get into increasingly weirdly-named poses and then bends in ways that I’m pretty sure are physically impossible for me. Seriously, she puts her forehead on her ankles at one point. If I’m doing that, I’m not relaxed. I have a spinal fracture. Call Brian, because I am not getting up from that on my own.
We’re sitting in child pose, which contrary to the name does not involve running wildly around, when Regina says, “And that’s it! Do you feel more in tune with your body?”
I don’t know about “in tune,” but a lot of the stretches really were fairly relaxing, and even if I wasn’t doing them exactly right, I’d say that I do feel pretty good. Also hungry, though, so I say, “Sure. Hey, you want to go get some breakfast?”
Regina laughs. “In a bit, maybe. First get into corpse pose.”
“That does not sound healthy.”
“It means lie on your back!”
“Then why not just say that?” I grumble, rolling onto my back.
“Because it doesn’t just mean that, but I realized ten minutes ago that you weren’t listening to anything I was saying, so I’m not going to go into all of the detail with you.”
She’s got me there. But I’m in corpse pose now, and corpses don’t apologize, so I say nothing.
“Close your eyes and calm your mind. Try to feel your heartbeat. Focus on that, and let everything else fall away. If you can’t feel your heartbeat, concentrate on your breathing. Let it flow in and out. In and out. Feel the air refresh you as it enters your lungs, then release it into the world on the exhale. Breathe. Just breathe.”
I lie there, eyes closed, listening to Regina’s modulated voice. In my mind’s eye I picture my calming beach, ocean in the background, warm sand everywhere. Regina is standing over me, reciting the instructions, and as I focus on her I start to feel the warm prickle of the sand grains beneath me.
The prickling intensifies, and it’s like having ants walking on me, tickling my hairs. I open my eyes and the sensation persists. I raise my arm to my face, peering closely at the skin. Very faintly, I can see pale flecks appearing as the skin covering starts to generate itself.
Noticing my movement, Regina asks, “Dan? Is everything all right?”
“Well,” I say, “you were certainly right about the meditation.”
After a hearty breakfast, I text Doc Simmons, who writes back to ask for samples in a “sealed, nondescript container.” The best I can do for her is to stuff the arm-skin into some Tupperware, folded up so that it doesn’t look precisely like a human hand in there, and wrap it in some Christmas paper left over from last year. I briefly consider writing “Merry Skinmas” on the outside, but decide that that sounds more pornographic than I really want it to. Also, it sort of screws up the “nondescript” part of the package.
Regina and I drop the package off at the hospital and head back home for another fun day of sifting through security tapes. We stop by the electronics store for a cable to connect my computer to the TV, so at least we can watch from the comfort of the couch. I order Chinese food for us for lunch and try to pretend that this is just a particularly plotless movie. At least the food is good.
My early bedtime comes as a relief, as it’s an excuse to quit slogging through the videos. At the end of the day, we’ve made it through another four of Regina’s shifts, working backwards from the time her powers hit. So far, though, there’s been nothing suspicious about any of the customers, and I’m starting to think that we’re on the wrong trail. Without any other leads, though, we might as well keep at it, discouraging though it is.
The next morning, Regina drops me off at work as usual. Christopher is already punching in when I enter the office, so I give him a casual, “Hey, man.”
His back is to me, and I see his shoulders tense slightly, but he doesn’t respond.
“Christopher?” I say. “Everything good?”
He turns, a slightly forced smile on his face. “Oh! Hi, Dan. Yeah, it’s good to see you.”
His voice sounds flat, like I’ve offended him. We were fine when we left work a couple of days ago, though, and I can’t imagine any way I could have irritated him with my greeting. Whatever it is, it’s clear he doesn’t want to talk about it, so I mentally shrug it off and move on.
Christopher seems to thaw as the day goes on, and after an hour or so we’re chatting like normal as we haul, mix, pour, and flatten. I’ve definitely done something, though, because I’m getting the same kind of vibe from the other guys at the site. No one’s explicitly doing anything, but I’m seeing a lot of side-eyed glares, like they suspect me of kicking their dogs or something.
At lunchtime, I track down Mr. Steele to see if he knows what’s going on. He’s at his desk, and when he looks up to see me at his door, his gaze hardens.
“Dan,” he says in a tone that’s bordering on unfriendly. “What can I do for you.”
The intonation makes it clear that this is a formality, not an actual question, but I press on anyway. “Hey, this may sound weird, but I feel like everyone at the site is ticked at me today. Did I screw something up?”
Mr. Steele looks at me for a moment before answering coldly, “Not everyone has to like everyone, Dan. Just get your work done.”
“I do get my work done!” I protest. “You’ve even complimented me on it!”
I watch as Mr. Steele’s expression evolves. I see him process this thought, remember our interactions, examine them for any problems he’s had with me, find none and realize that he likes me, all in the span of less than a second. His tone is much warmer when he speaks.
“As far as I know, you’ve done nothing wrong. In fact, I’d say you’ve been a model employee.” His brow furrows for a moment. “I haven’t heard any complaints at all.”
I’m not sure why this last statement puzzles him. In fact, this whole exchange has left me a little more confused than I was before. He seems happy enough with me now, though, and even smiles at me when I thank him for his time. So I suppose it was a helpful conversation.
I mull over this as I eat my lunch. If I didn’t do anything to cause this, then something else is going on. In my experience, whatever it is is unlikely to turn out to be positive.