That night went faster than he expected when after a quick roundabout the whole punch suddenly gathered in his living room, dragged out punch of pillows and blankets and piled up on the sofa covering the girl almost completely while she relaxed in the middle and began reading a story from half-finished Lord of the Rings book. Her voice was calm and different from the eager anxiety he’d heard throughout the week she prepared the place for the boys. He couldn’t help setting his cup down and settling behind the kitchen table, quietly listening how the fellowship had reached Rivendell, a peace of calm and harmony, a place to rest to gather energy for the rest of their journey.
He looked around in his meager kitchen, which was hardly looking like an elven resort for traveling knights with the creaking door on the furthest left cabinet and burn marks from his careless conquests making dinner.
He heard her shuffling out of the blankets she’d been offered for not having her own, and coming to the kitchen. He looked at the door, waiting for her to appear, leaning back on his chair, which he knew would creak under his weight so she wouldn’t be surprised he was there.
Moment later she came and there was a shy smile on her lips when she set the book on the kitchen table and took the other seat.
“They’re tired,” she explained.
He could understand younger ones, but… “Older boys too?” He hated having daily naps at their preteen years.
“They just…” She hesitated, picking on the soft cover of the book, which was already softened under such treatment.
“You might as well tell me why you’re doing this without the seller speech.” He honestly wanted to know. The way they wouldn’t go two steps from where she was despite Urmas trying to get them to follow him and how the youngest, who was now securely forever planted on Jevgeni’s lap after she needed hands to make them sandwiches and the way the toddler accepted the exchange were clearly not actions of random lucky boys given a summer camp. She was no stranger to them.
Her eyes avoided his, running around on the cabinets and the book before she explained.
“We’re from the same orphanage.” She sighed. “It was small and we lived in this tiny house between apartment buildings and private homes. For three years, there were only us, boys and me, and when I became of age, they decided it was too expensive to keep up the small house, so they separated us and scattered them all over the country. But we kept in touch and… well, I… I wanted us back together.” Her eyes came up and settled on him. “So I did it.”
He didn’t know what to say for a while, studying the woman in front of him, and now that he knew she was only twenty compared to his thirty five, he wanted to call her a mislead youth, but couldn’t. He couldn’t imagine her as such at all. Her dark eyes shined and there were no illusions of the outcome of her selfish act. It would hurt like hell in the end, but some pains were worth the scars. Her nose perked up a bit, her fingers playing with the cowries on her bracelet.
“You could have used that as your selling point,” he murmured without thinking, “it would have opened many pockets to this…” he gulped, catching himself before saying something he knew would be quite insulting.
“Sob story?” she supplied instead and she nodded, her voice cracking as she looked away. “But I don’t want us to be a sob story! We are not puppies to be tossed around, we’re children. It’s not about charity, or somebody writing a story for the newspaper “Oh, look at that Samaritan businessman! He helped a punch of orphans!” I don’t want it to be about them. We’re not their boon of the year.”
Her voice faded and she gulped, clearly getting emotional, but he didn’t care. She had most likely gone through enough to allow to wallop in the hurt, even for a little.
“It’s give and take.” He explained after they’d sat there quietly for few minutes. “They use you for advertisement and you get what you want.”
“We don’t want to be in newspapers.” She repeated. “We didn’t end up in Trinity Grace Orphanage because we wanted to. Some of us were brought in from… The less publicity is better until they are grown up and can fend for themselves, ok?”
It sounded like a plea and although he’d had no plans of using any of it as he hated this kind of publicity, he tried not to ask for details.
“I have no need for such articles.” He decided to settle her nerve. She didn’t calm from it, but she did seem a bit less defensive. “Can we… talk about something else?”
Change of topic seemed the best way to go right now.
“Swimming!” she grabbed from the offered straw. “I checked the weather report and it should be good until Monday at least. Any good places around here? I did find a seaside beach about an hour from here, but if there is any closer place, I don’t think Kaspar or Victor or Anton wanna see any bus any time soon, so…”
She was hopping from one idea to another, but he liked it. He felt a quick kick under the table and jumped on his seat, realizing he’d forgot himself staring and hadn’t listened her at all.
“I find it hard to associate the names with their faces.”
“It’ll come in time.” She assured, still waiting for the answer. What was the question?
“The pine forest there,” he went with the most probable answer and pointed at south side of the farm, “there is a sand hole that floods in spring time. If we’re lucky, there is still some water left. It’s not deep, perfect for kids, but grownups don’t have a chance.”
She nodded eagerly. “That’ll do.”