“Pink.” Ruby teased. She popped a single kernel of popcorn into her mouth. She ate slowly, watching Kennealy, knowing she was getting a reaction even though he kept his face passive.
“They were not pink. They were a very manly salmon color.” Kennealy protested, munching handfuls of popcorn and trying not to look at her.
“Pink.” She verbally poked him. She shifted in her seat. “Are you still wearing them?”
He looked at her directly, unable to resist giving her just a little smile. “You aren’t going to try and check again, are you?”
Two rows behind them, Atticus ate his own popcorn, his wife Helen cozily holding his arm. “Good grief, the two of them fight like brother and sister.”
Helen scoffed quietly so their young guests couldn’t hear. “Oh, darling, that’s not fighting, that’s flirting.”
Atticus trusted his wife’s instincts. Or rather her combination of instincts and training that made her an expert in reading people. Helen was a professor of Musichiatry. It had been her idea to bring Ruby and Kennealy to their home for a unique viewing and listening experience.
“Did you know, this young lady listens to Pink Floyd and Mahler simultaneously?” Atticus told her one evening over dinner, after Kennealy came back from a jaunte with stories about experiencing the music without sound, and then hearing the cuckoo.
“Mahler’s First? Really?” She had continued eating, then added “Well… maybe the third movement. But still…”
Helen’s specialty was how music relates to the human brain. One of her favorite exercises was to pair otherwise discordant media, and observe how they worked together.
One of the first such experiments had been performed in the late twentieth century. Helen wondered how the pairing of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as a soundtrack for the even older movie The Wizard of Oz had come about in the first place; the two fit together in an eerie, surreal kind of way.
As a short preview to the movie, Helen had selected a series of other mashups with The Wall. There was The Bee Gees’ Staying Alive, the first movement to Grimm’s 2nd Symphony, Margot Buscimi’s Hollow and a few others.
Ruby had been generously acquiescent when Helen asked if she could monitor her while they watched. Just a few simple dots stuck to her skin in key locations, and Helen could gather all the data she needed.
Ruby’s reactions to the short music selections were intriguing, but when Dorothy’s house started spinning through the tornado, the readings changed drastically. “Is she gone?” Helen whispered to her husband.
Atticus tossed a piece of popcorn at Kennealy’s head to get his attention. It took no more than a raise of an eyebrow from Atticus to ask the question, and a single nod of the head from Kennealy to answer.
Ruby’s brain was on vacation.
Helen watched the two chrononauts, counting on her own observations to supplement the data she was recording. “How long have they known each other?” she asked Atticus.
She noted how Ruby was hugging Kennealy’s rather large arm, as if he was an anchor and she was afraid she might float away. Kennealy’s eyes were focused on the top of her head. He was sitting perfectly still, as if afraid of waking her.
“And how did this attachment form? Do you think they were attracted to each other initially? Or is there something more to it.”
“I’m not sure.” Atticus said dismissively. Too dismissively… Helen recognized the tone and language. They’d been married for thirty years, and before that Atticus had pursued her relentlessly. She was a bit older than he was, and not at all interested in the socially apathetic mathematician, but he was persistent.
He also became jealous quite easily.
He was jealous now.
“Oh, darling, are you jealous that your new friend has found someone else?” She couldn’t help but sound just a bit condescending, but it was a friendly and loving tease, not meant to be cruel. She knew Atticus had rapidly formed a close relationship with Kennealy after inadvertently serving as the chrononaut’s platform.
“I’m not jealous.” He said. Any casual observer would think he really meant it, it came out sounding so flippant. But Helen was an expert, and she knew her husband.
She switched her voice to scientist mode instead of wife tone. “Have you considered that the attachment between an application and a platform is not simply a friendship found from working closely together, but something else? Something important?”
Ruby woke up. “Munchkins!” she exclaimed happily, and Atticus was momentarily off the hook for giving an answer to his wife as Helen stared wide eyed at the readouts she was getting.
“What did I miss?” Ruby whispered loudly to Kennealy. Apparently, she was aware that she had checked out for a short time, but it didn’t bother her.
And then all four of them heard the cuckoo.