Kinswoman – chapter 2

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She had let him go.

It was the only thing that kept ringing in her ears when she registered her worker ID on the small machine on the steps of the library, blocking out everything from traffic to the voice of the older man in the front desk.

“Morning, Miss Brent!” the security guard nodded and let her pass like every other morning.

“Morning!”

She hadn’t slept well, but make-up had this wonderful effect of hiding it. She just couldn’t believe she had finally got a lead on Selene’s disappearance and she’d simply let it get away so easily, literally walk out of her life as it had never been there. Selene had been gone for months now and so far all she had managed was to have her declared missing by police without no help from Selene’s own family, not that she really expected it from them. About a week in, she’d got the fifteen thousand in small bills with handwritten note that supposedly had been a printed e-mail from Selene’s personal mail address. Which she never believed it to be, because she couldn’t believe she’d walk out with a mere e-mail. Not after their little chat with Isilia about good manners and importance of sending postcards. Not that the police thought it relevant. They’d only confiscated the money and the e-mail, took her fingerprints and said she’d probably hitchhiked to Canaries to stay out of jail. With what miracle, she couldn’t even begin to imagine, because according to Knockfinger, she hadn’t been registered to any of the flights and had no such funds. Yet that was their response until a month ago when she still hadn’t turned out and they quietly moved the case into the possibly deceased pile. And from there on she’d been on her own.

“Should have tied him up and made him talk!” She cursed. Yeah, her against that huge piece of mythology that could smash through her and be done with it. She should have been afraid of it, she was aware of that fact, but with her past, compared with her ex, he somehow seemed the safer option.

She followed the line of mud carpets that lead her from the elevator to the small office given to her five years back. It was far away from other people in the building, but not from the piles of books that looked like thick trees surrounding the only path that took you deep in the forest to your granny’s place. Buzzing skylights and trolleys of books – her coworkers. Despite that, she actually liked this job. It wasn’t because Robert had deemed it good respectable workplace. She was good at it and people here were nice. Even after they found out from the newspapers what scandal she’d been living in last year. They didn’t change, they didn’t judge. And that’s what kept her there. She could still grab her electric kettle, take the lift to second floor and come back up without somebody constantly rallying her up. Serenity and sanctuary.

She turned around the corner and found herself face to face with much larger gun barrel than she carried in my purse. Second later it fell lower and she heared familiar voice sigh with a relief before the gun was locked up in the holster.

“I thought it was that security guard again!” he huffed, slumping against the blue plaster.

She should be screaming, she reminded her idle brain, but instead kept pointing at him with her finger with very obvious question lingering on her lips. “How?”

“The hell are you doing here anyway?” he pushed himself up again and started back in the dead end of the corridor.

“I should ask you the same. How did you get past the guard?”

“One guard – large house, how hard do you think that is?” He was fidgeting, his head kept moving, as if checking the books over and he reached out to raise a cover here and there. It sent dust flying.

“You’ve been here before?” The house was practically an ants nest – so many corridors with seemingly irregular rooms, it drove all the temporary assistants crazy. To make it all the way to the top floor, he had to have at least an inkling of which routs to take.

“Once.” He eyed the blue walls across the corridor. “It used to have natural concrete here.”

She arced my eyebrows – she couldn’t remember that. Must have been before her time.

He observed her raincoat and umbrella. “Is it still raining? Can’t get any info on weather and the wifi isn’t penetrating the walls here.” His eyes stopped on my face again, but then he hugged himself and looked away again.

“I work here.” She explained before he could ask. She picked the keys from the coat’s pocket and walked past him to get to her office door. “Don’t worry, the guards don’t come here during the day, so you can sleep here if you want.”

“I don’t sleep during the day.”

As if she knew what they did and what they did not do. He sounded a bit offended, but given how pathetic he looked crawled up in the dead end of the corridor, she didn’t mind.

“Still, the house if full of people, so unless you are prepared to create wide spread paranormal panic, I don’t mind if you stay here.” she grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. She could feel his sudden panic, when he jumped back, out of the natural light streaming in from the large double windows the office had – pretty view on the valley park that covered the backside of the library.

She tossed her bag on the empty chair in the corner and went straight to the windows to lower the Roman shades. It darkened the office quite a bit, but without the strong sunlight outside, they had to do. He peeked from the door, slowly testing the light with his hand. It seemed OK, doing nothing to his skin. He took the risk and slowly came in the room while she undid her coat.

It wasn’t much – a table, two chairs and a small sofa in the back of the room next to a larger extra table she had for sorting and a shelf divided in two where she kept her teapot, teas and two cheap print mugs. One was hers, the other was for Selene. Her dear Selene. She kept hers clean and ready, keeping the dream alive, hoping that one days she walked through that door unannounced once again, pick up the cup and slam it on the table by the sofa, clearing away the books. Now, that dream was gone and her caffeine shrine had become a memorial for things I’ve lost.

She snapped out of it, when she saw him checking out the book pile on the table. “Make yourself at home.” she offered and moved the mouse to bring the PC out of its sleep.

She could feel his strange look on her before he turned and pushed the switch for the skylight and then walked over on the sofa and landed on it, covering it all with his wings. Considerate of him, she thought, looking straight at the lamp, it would have been indeed too dark for her, but oddly she hadn’t thought about switching it on.

He was shivering. The fact registered in her brain after he actually sat still and the regular movement wasn’t camouflaging it. He looked nervous. He probably hoped to be back home already and being caught up by morning wasn’t much fun. Considering the library was 10 miles from the dormitory, he hadn’t used his wings. This shivering didn’t seem normal at all, even if she hadn’t met any living gargoyles before and didn’t have comparative material.

“Are you cold?” she already knew he wasn’t, but he’d spent the night out and even with his jacket on it must have been chilly.

He shook his head. “We tolerate cold better than humans. Wouldn’t mind something to drink though.”

“Uh, yes!” She got out of her seat and went for the kettle. It was half full. She emptied it on the Philodendron with his obvious dislike. She didn’t blame him – the white cover on its soil was indeed nasty reminder of how good our water was. The plant wasn’t thriving on it either, remaining in a small bush instead of spreading its vines like it was supposed to do.

“How come it’s still alive?” he asked.

“Stubbornness.” She pat it’s imaginary head and smiled. It’s why she loved it.

She returned ten minutes later with kettle full of fresh water and big helping of fries. She had no idea what they ate, but that seemed the most logical choice and she doubted he’d had any since last night.

He was standing in the middle of the room without his jacket. It was hanged next to mine. It had interesting design – two slips on the back which could be zipped smaller from bottom up, creating an ingenious way to look modern, yet giving the wearer possible changing option. Well, that explained how he could wear something so tight knit to his body. This gave me better look on his back, the dark shirt bearing similar changes done on his back, creating sort of corset look with two lines of buttoned slits underneath his wings. Over it he had his guns.

He turned, looking at her nervously. He was still shaking and it started to bother her. The way he couldn’t get it under control despite that I could see he was trying. He looked uncomfortable and she realized it was because she was feeling sorry for him. Her eyes fell on the cigarette between his right hand fingers he was tapping on the back of his other arm. He hadn’t lit it yet, but he was thinking of it, lighter gripped in his palm.

“Here,” she held the plastic box out for him. He took it, took a sneak peak inside and popped it open. “I didn’t know what you eat, but…”

“That’s fine, thank you.”

He set the cigarette on the table corner by the PC and began eating right there, still pacing in the middle of the room. She filled her cup and handed it to him. The water kept shaking in the cup and she made herself busy while he sipped some, deemed it awful, swirled it around a bit, then drank again, finishing the entire thing and set the cup down again.

“There’s more if you’d like.” she offered, but he shook his head. She went back to my PC and sat there, watching him eat like observing a wild animal do its rituals.

So this shivering wasn’t from cold. He didn’t look like someone, who’d be out of his element if something surprising came along, so it couldn’t be from nerves either. Then withdrawal of a drug? Was he using something? Smoking, yes, but something more? It couldn’t be regular, one wouldn’t be able to look top nudge like he did. Not in long term anyway. She let her eyes roam from the bottom of his toes up, all the way to his face and stopped there, caught off guard by his chewing jaws. Bascun was staring her back, legs apart and chewing on the fry. She blushed to her roots with the grin he flashed a second later, but the smile died just as fast as it appeared. She turned her eyes on the ceiling and realized her room didn’t have smoke alarm.

“You can smoke here if you want.” She offered and rose to open the small airing window. It was still chilly outside, but sending him out wasn’t an option. She ripped out a page from my notebook and stapled the corners, making a make-shift ashtray. He nodded, taking it and lit up his cigarette.

She watched him pacing in front of the window, he had about three of them under his breath before leaning on it, half-sitting on the window pane. He kept sending me those half glances, which say he needed a distraction. Anything to fix his mind on before he burst into tearing through the furniture. I’d seen this before, though I didn’t get the feeling with him as if I should be hiding. With Robert, in the end, all I could think of was how to disappear out of sight. He wouldn’t have been contemplating furniture, he would have ripped into me. She left her seat and walked over quietly to sit in front of him on the other side, deciding she’d give him benefit of doubt before starting the scared mouse routine she’d mastered. Wasn’t that what her therapist had suggested? Though, how she could say that to a woman, who had just ended a disastrous relationship was beyond her.

Maybe he wasn’t the one, who needed distractions, it had been months since she had Robert haunting her during the day.

“Thorwald would have done it differently,” he said, lighting another. He diverted the smoke up, towards the open window.

“Smoking is bad habit.”

He grunted. “After making me the tray I thought you were a nice girl.” He frowned, puffing out. “I picked it up from humans. Together with other critters.”

“Who’s Thorwalds?”

“My brother. How do you know Selene?”

“We met in the waiting room in court.” His shivering eased as he concentrated on me and I continued. “She had my eyes – as you said. She looked so much like a sister to me, I couldn’t resist and asked her. It was my last day there.” She winched. “I was getting a divorce and that was my…” she didn’t want to really get into it. “Finally.” She added, bringing the topic to an end. “I thought she was there for the same reason. I was quite surprised when she said she came to get her sentence. My session came first, so I waited until hers ended and asked her if she’d like to go for a drink.” I shrugged as if it meant nothing, but Bascun could see those were actually tender memories. He watched me quietly, but something in him had tensed and it made her a bit awkward.

“So that’s why Thorwald had no interest in sending her back. You aren’t really related, are you?”

“What?” His question came as a surprise. As if she’d blurted out something bad.

“You said she was your niece earlier, now you give me how you met at court?”

“Will she be in trouble for that?”

“No. Her past doesn’t matter to us.”

Although she pressed on a smile, hearing him say that actually hurt. The throbbing in her chest made her realized she’d moved on with her life while she desperately searched for her. Had I really mattered that little? Given, we weren’t actually related and we’d only known each other for short period of time, but she’d become so much more to me than mere coincidence at court.

She felt fingers on my neck, softly caressing over her ear. “Hey-hey, it’s OK. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to upset you. She didn’t say she left anybody behind.”

“I’m not anybody important. We just… I tried to contact her for days, when she went missing. I thought she was busy, or took a vacation, or… I knew something was really wrong, when the suitcase arrived with the money and a note stating that as the closest relative I am entitled to her fee. She does have a family, but the message, why would they – this game of ours was only so we could take care of each other, but I’m not related! If someone died, you don’t do that – you don’t contact someone randomly named, you go to the real relatives!”

He pulled back his hand. It was still shivering. He removed his sunglasses, hanging them from his neckline and rubbed his eyes. Then he turned them on me, confused. Wow, did he have gorgeous eyes! Dark, glassy shine of mercury.

“Sorry, I should… She was in an accident a month after we met. It wasn’t anything big, she hurt her elbow and was taken to hospital. She didn’t want her family to know, so she enlisted me as her cousin when they took down the information. It was a joke, but somehow it rang true to us. As far as I’m concerned, I’m her cousin and that’s that, but in human world, that means absolutely nothing when person is declared dead.” She joined his smile, realizing she was starting to calm down, before my eyes went over him and she understood his shivering had not. “You really should get some rest before you move on.”

“I thought you’re coming with me?” he asked.

“Goes without saying.” She paused. “How much sun can you tolerate?”

“Direct – I fall asleep, thick clouds – no problem, cloudy with chance for clearing – not risking it.”

“It’s thick like a soup today.”

He leaned back and coached the edge of the shade back, examining the weather for a while. “Looks tolerable.”

“Good. Then I’ll finish by lunch and then I have two full days to deal with your problem.”

“My problem…” he mumbled and she heard him lit another cigarette while she went and started moving the book piles around. After a while he stopped smoking. She didn’t have to look to know that made eight cigarettes. She’d counted them. But at least his shivering slowly lessened until there was nothing left of it and she was glad. He wasn’t asking for new fix, didn’t act fidgety – seemed to her, he was finally starting to truly relax, letting his body rest.

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