We pulled up in front of an old farm yard with the typical three other buildings surrounding the inner yard. There was a small vegetable garden on the back, but nobody had used it in years. Just like the building in front. Aside the main house, everything was showing signs of wear and now that too had began break down. The inner yard used to hold vast beauty garden which was visible both from bedroom and the living room. So far she had managed to keep it alive, but the November was doing its rounds and what used to be there in abundance was now sweetly losing both its colors and strength. She’d impeded many old time roses that withstood the cold better and their leaves turned red together with chrysanthemums to make sure it never really got bare before winter really kicked in. There was something about leaving it empty that seemed utterly depressing to her and if it was hard to bare to her, she had no doubt it was worse for the woman inside.
The other two houses were granary and barn. Those were the unwritten rules of the farms here – everything valuable was held close, everything disposable outside the small circle. Thank god there were no animals left and the granary hadn’t seen any life since Robert stopped coming here. She couldn’t move in here and the thought of them being poorly cared for made her stomach churn.
“You’ve been quiet since we stopped.”
“Hm?” She turned to face him and realized he’d been watching me tensely for a while. It wasn’t said accusatory, but something in it irked her. It wasn’t as if he had been talkative either.
“I guess you can’t help it after what happened?”
She arched one of her brows. “I…” She wanted to say she agreed with the message he cave to the man, but seriously didn’t like his method. The guy probably needed mental help for the rest of his life. Then again, since they’d turned on the small road leading straight here, it hadn’t been in her mind at all. As if it hadn’t been shocking at all and she felt lost by the notion how it had simply vanished from her thoughts.
“Is it weird to be back here?” He changed the topic, looking around in the small farm yard.
“No,” she shook her head. The opposite. She liked coming back here despite the circumstances. “It belongs to someone, who is very dear to me.” But instead of the warmth she felt coming here on other times, this time it was different and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Like something ominous was lurking in the November air and she nearly snorted, thinking on all the depressing late autumn poetry by Brits that all carried the same menacing prediction of decay.
“Somebody lives here?”
She had to admit now that he said it, that the house did look abandoned. She quickly opened the car door and bolted for the front door. Fear crept in her and for a fain moment she believed for the worst. She thought she’d be prepared for such occasion, though through all the needed courses she’d taken on caring for elderly, but, for real, nobody is really prepared. The dying surroundings took a whole new meaning and she hurried to get inside, through the open kitchen until her eyes stopped on a small figure. The house was heated at least and she forced a warm smile on my face, hoping to shake the demons away.
He’d followed her and was now standing on the door, eyes fixed on the fragile figure sitting on a large chair in her nightgowns with a little blanket pulled over the body. When she’d say there was a place to hide for a while, she bet he hadn’t expect to see anyone there.
She quietly removed her glasses and knelt in front of her chair, gently shaking her knee. “Hi granny!” She told her when she finally jolted from her sleep and was immediately welcomed by a tender hand petting her cheek. “Would you like some tea?”
The woman nodded and she pulled away, assuring her once more that she was nearby, turning on the ceiling light, completely forgetting that this brought Bascun out of his shadows and revealed his wings. She was reminded that by a rush of leather when he hurried to pack them up so they were at least hidden behind his mass.
“Don’t worry,” she assured him, seemingly unhinged, “doctor said she can’t see well anymore. Or hear.”
He relaxed visibly, but still hesitated, when he stepped closer, almost like testing how far he could go without the shadows giving away that there was something off about his shape.
“Isilia is not my grandmother, she is Robert’s, but after the divorce, things went sour and, well, now she’s mine. ” She explained quietly as if he could figure that by now. She knew there would be no way to tell it by the looks, but somehow it seemed important to explain it to him. “As you can see, I do choose my relatives.” She added with a joke.
“Why isn’t her son here? Grandchildren?” he asked with a hushed tone despite what she’d just said about her hearing. It was instinctual, so she didn’t reprimand him for it.
“The bastard was infertile. She will never have the joy of grandkids.” She paused and tossed her overclothes to the chair before turning to the old lady, who had reached out her hand in search of her. “Oh, sweetie,” she whispered to the old lady, gently brushing over her white hair. “Thank god for that.” She turned back to him. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had any kids.” She paused. “Robert is angry she took my side in court. It’s his way of punishing us both – he left her for the wolves and me… Well, some things end up well, when they end.”
Something like disappointment flashed in his eyes. “At least his genes…”
“Don’t!” She warned, suddenly protective, which irritated the hell out of him. “It’s not his fault he can’t have children! Nature’s a bitch. Sometimes fair, but hurtful.”
He watched us for a while in silence, teasing mood fading. In the end he simply apologized. She didn’t reply. Instead a certain odor hit her nose and she cringed, knowing what her next task would be. Seconds later she was already wrapping her sleeves up.
“I need to give her a bath. Make yourself comfy.”
He watched her remove her blanket and sighed. He tugged off his own heavy jacket together with his guns and set them on a dusty chair where I’d left my jacket, before walking over and patting her on her shoulder, lodging her away.
“Go get us something to eat,” he said, “I can do that.”
“You?” That sounded surprisingly wrong in her head.
“We do care for our elderly!” he bashed back, but the usual show-off tone was missing. “I do it a lot, alright?” he said and sly grin flashed over his face as if it was funny. Then he turned to the old lady and went very close to her face, so she could see him clearer and said bit louder. “I’ll be helping you today, grandma.”
Then he scooped the old lady up and she directed him to the bathroom.
“You’re an angel or demon today?” she asked, when he was holding her like a baby in his hands.
He turned his silver eyes on her and smiled, revealing his strong canines. “As you wish, so I will be for you today.”
“Ah, well, a demon would be nice then.”
She was startled by the pride his sudden, deep laughter carried through the empty rooms. It was the first time she’d really heard it and it warmed her heart too. He might look like a demon, she thought, but now it felt as if he was their demon and that made her smile, accept the little show of homey comfort he had offered, a mirror image of times from far back, when everything was still rosy. She was glad she hadn’t been surprised by the wings. Perhaps she was thinking her mind was playing tricks again and at that point, how else would she explain her lack of fear?
Isilia fell back asleep the moment she had her sheets changed and warm dinner in her belly. Not on her bed, though, on the chair. She didn’t like sleeping in her bedroom, saying it would cut her off from the rest of the house too much, so she slouched on her large chair Veronica had brought her. It could be easily manipulated into bed. It had cost her some, but seeing the older woman happy had made it an easy choice. She fluffed the pillows and set them around her, cradling her. Bascun had set her down on them, took the tabouret behind the kitchen table and was now watching from there while she cleaned the place up a bit. She had gone on about sleeping arrangements as if it were the most natural thing to do. She didn’t presume he would stay longer than he had to, but it was how she was brought up – make sure your guests are fed, set up for beds, feel warm and fuzzy. She sighed, recalling the voice of her mother saying the same things. In a way, it offered her comfort and peace of mind, pushing back the thoughts of dealing with a stranger, which would send her straight into panic attack. A complete stranger in her house. Not hers, she corrected, in Isilia’s house!
He allowed her to meddle, oddly silent, eyes set on the old woman. She stopped the broom, leaned on it and turned her eyes in the same direction. Shadows had left again and the place had little more life in it. For now.
“She’s a tough little woman.” He murmured, setting his chin on his hands.
“Yeah,” she agreed, “life hasn’t been easy on either of us. But seeing her keep up the fight and smiling through it all, I wasn’t gonna give in easily either. Never give up, she said, not against people like Robert, or you will disappear altogether.”
She sat, feeling tired. “She was the one, who told me he was cheating on me. I don’t even know how she found out – she never leaves this place!” She got up and brushed on, closer to the door to push it out of the house. “It was her Christmas present for me – your husband is cheating on you and I know he’s no good, so I called in my girlfriend’s son and asked him to bring your divorce papers!” She made a mockery of her local dialect and paused until the dust was out and away. She closed the door again and came back, sitting behind the coffee she’d made them after the dinner. She noticed he was drinking water again, despite the cup still carrying rands of coffee on the edge and her brain telling her she had given him coffee. But beneath the line was pure glistering water.
“I signed the papers right there,” she continued, “best decision I’ve made in years. She mailed it immediately to Dominic. He was a bit too fast going though and sent the papers straight on to Robert. Got me a bit, huh, yeah…” she didn’t want to go back there. The beating had been one of her more memorable ones, but in afterthought she had no regrets and took it with sick pleasure. She was free. Of course, if she lived that long. “He redecorated me, if you know what I mean. Granny’s friend died few months later, but her son has been my rock through this tough time.”
“He’s close to you?”
She raised her eyelashes and shook her head. Why was that important? “His wife is.” She chuckled, putting him out of his misery. Not really, she added in my head. She wasn’t close to anyone these days. Not having a safe haven did that to you somehow, but as far as professional help went, they had been the best. Cost pretty penny, too, but most of that was covered by Robert thanks to good work of my lawyer.
Bascun seemed different than before. Given, she had witnessed how he dried up his shirt by going over it few times with his palms before sitting down and the open neckline gave me a good look, bringing out his collarbones and the small tattoo which, if she guessed it right, was continuations of the one covering his wing. Like gargoyle mob, she smiled secretly. His hands were bear of any decorations, nothing on them as he sat there now, playing with his cup, his sleeves still turned up from the bath session earlier. He sure dressed to show off his muscles, for the shirt’s strange color was perfectly matched to bring up his slightly grayish skin tone.
“You’re worried that Selene did worse than you.” He said quietly after a long staring contest.
“A little.” she admitted, letting the thought actually play out in her head for the first time. She was married. The idea itself was still sending jolts of fire up to her stomach from fears, or from recognizing the potential problems such unexpected union might have brought. She was a good little copycat – didn’t bother to wait to know him any better and just flew into it. Just like she had. She caught his struggling look – was she babbling on about Robert too much? She was, wasn’t she!
“Thorwald is a good chief.” He said, trying to easy the little fear running through her, making her shiver a bit.
“To my clan. We have…” he counted in his head, starting over several times. “fifty five clansmen, but most of them are scattered over Hatangy. We have about twenty living in the nest. Six – when I was there last – were in hibernation, so right now there are about fifteen clansmen who live with her.”
I chuckled, listening that. “That’s a lot of children?” she offered, not quite understanding.
He laughed and nodded. “Right now we only have ten youth under our care. We live together under one roof, both grownups and children.”
“They’re all related to you?”
“Somewhat.” he didn’t elaborate on it.
“Well, she did say she wanted a big family.”
“She’s doing fine job dealing them. Or, they, uh, more like deal her.” he swung his fingers around.
She could imagine that and laughed unintentionally. “Is she happy at least?”
He gave her an assuring smile, but his eyes remained serious. Perhaps he was doubting how much she’d believe him if he said they were. All the marriages begin with happiness, don’t they? But then something happens and they fall apart. Lucky were those, who found the middle ground and both parties survived.
“I hope she is. I hope they’ll work out.” That was as sincere as she could get wishing them luck, when she was still shouting furiously at her missing image in her head. Stupid, stupid, stupid little copycat! She gulped down the last of her drink and got up to put the cup away. He grabbed her by her wrist and pulled her eyes on him. He felt warm, a bit frightened, and his eyes locked in mine.
“I’d like to help you forget that fitch if you allow me?”