Mia pulled her lower lip between her teeth and bit down, concentrating hard to mend a large hole in the elbow of one of her shirts. It was proving difficult to push the bone sewing needle through the thick mass of untidy stitches already in place. Mia used her thumb nail for leverage and forced the needle through—right into the fleshy pad of her index finger. She jerked in her seat, sucking a harsh breath through her clenched teeth.
“Ow,” Mia whined under her breath and lifted the finger to her face for close inspection. Blood flowed out of the small puncture wound and formed a swollen dome of bright crimson on the surface of her skin. She put the finger in her mouth and leaned back in her chair, discarding the mending in her lap in disgust. Iron bloomed on the tip of her tongue as she swept an ill-tempered look around the room.
Breahn sat on a stool before the stone hearth, dark head bent over a pair of Mia’s doeskin leggings. A sewing needle flashed in the firelight as Breahn stitched with an efficiency Mia had yet to master, closing a hole in one of the grass stained knees of the garment. Mia studied the sharp lines and hollow angles of Breahn’s profile for a long moment before she let her eyes drift toward the large window that looked out onto the thick line of trees behind the house.
Night had turned the glass into a black pool, edged in knotty pine. Reflections of the sitting room, its furnishings and its occupants, were painted on the surface. Mia’s face stared back at her from the glass, her eyes hidden in the deep shadows that coloured the skin beneath them. She averted her gaze—and with some irritation, found it drawn again to the plain earthenware vase sitting atop the mantle, a gaudy bouquet of wildflowers spilling out in every direction.
Long green stems, drooped with the effort of supporting fat yellow blooms, and large sunset funnels speckled with black. Mia frowned at the sprays of tiny white flowers and bluish purple bells that had been used as fillers, their delicate petals already growing papery with decay.
“Have you spotted some disgusting creepy crawly, or have those flowers offended you in some way?”
Breahn was staring at Mia, a smirk curling her lips. The leggings she had been mending were folded neatly on her lap. Mia blew a mildly amused puff of air through her nose and gave her friend a half-smile. “No,” Mia said, switching her attention back to the flowers.
“Pretty, aren’t they?” Asked Breahn.
Mia raised her shoulders, “I guess.” She stared at the bouquet, taking in the brownish stain creeping into the yellow slipper like blooms. Another day or two and the whole thing would need to be tossed out—a brutally shortened lifespan, all for the sake of decoration. Her tone was dark as she added, “If you like watching things die slowly.”
A loud, surprised laugh exploded out of Breahn’s mouth a second before she covered it with a hand—which did nothing to stop the giggles pouring through the cracks between her slender fingers. Her eyes were bright with mirth above the hand. “How dramatic you are,” Breahn managed to say and was overcome with another wave of laughter.
Mia smirked despite herself. It wasn’t the reaction she’d been going for, or expected—she really did hate flowers in the house. “I’m serious,” Mia said. Her ankle had fallen asleep beneath her weight, Mia unhooked it from the tangle of her folded legs and let her socked foot rest on the ground before the fire. “Why can’t people just leave beautiful things where they belong? They last longer when they’re left alone.”
“I don’t know,” a line formed between Breahn’s dark brows. Her hand fell away from her face to reveal pale lips pressed together in consideration. It was one of the things Mia had come to appreciate most about Breahn: her friend’s ability to recognize when she needed a real answer and not just another smart quip. “I suppose it isn’t enough for us to see a beautiful thing and simply admire it. We feel the need to possess that beauty,” Breahn’s face cleared as she spoke. She met Mia’s intent gaze, “Even if it is to the detriment of the very thing we admire.”
“Which it usually is,” Mia was quick to point out.
“Mmmm,” Breahn agreed. She tilted her face toward the mantle, a solid oak beam, scarred and blackened by countless fires. Unadorned, save for the vase of flowers deliberately placed at its centre. Breahn smiled, “Ah, but they are pretty to look at.”
Mia stared at Breahn a heartbeat longer before forcing herself to look at the silly flowers again—dreading the surge of painful memories they stirred up every time she did. But Mia made herself look, and tried, for the sake of her friend, to see what the other girl saw. Pretty—yes, Mia supposed they were pretty—Beautiful, actually. The bouquet had been artfully arranged, every flower chosen for the way it complimented the others. Mia rolled her eyes and expelled a breath. “Hanna definitely knows how to pick them.” Done with this particular conversation, Mia picked up the shirt she’d discarded in her lap and examined what remained of the hole she’d been trying to fix earlier.
From the stool before the fire, Breahn gave a soft chuckle.
“What?” Mia said, not looking away from her finger protruding through the small opening in the fabric.
“Hanna didn’t pick them.”
Frowning, Mia slid a sideways glance at Breahn. The other girl was perched on edge of her stool, leaning toward the fire with an iron poker in her hand. The amused curve at the corner of Breahn’s mouth remained in place as she strained to roll a large log onto the side that had not yet been touched by the flames.
When she had completed her task, Breahn propped the poker against the stone fireplace and ran a sleeve across her brow. Only then did she meet Mia’s curious gaze. Blue eyes sparkled with amusement above cheeks sharpened by the firelight, “Vander did.”
Breahn’s smile widened and she laughed lightly, “Does that surprise you?”
Mia’s gaze darted between the flowers and Breahn’s face. “Vander picked those?” She asked, her voice pitched low. She didn’t really know why she bothered to whisper, there was no one to overhear their conversation. Orden, looking drained, his eyes rimmed with red, had gone to bed shortly after dinner. A concerned Hanna had followed him while Vander had disappeared into the night, probably gone to finish dressing down the doe he’d taken earlier in the day. They weren’t likely to see him in the house again the rest of the evening.
“He did,” Breahn said, whispering too, “he often brings them for Ma. He only picks her favourites.”
“Seriously?” First the guitar, and now this? “Vander?” Something like a laugh forced its way out of Mia’s mouth, a short, dubious bark of sound. “You’re kidding.”
“I am not.” Breahn said.
Mia gave the other girl a hard look. She wasn’t kidding, that Mia could tell by the slightly offended way Breahn had tilted her head to the side. Mia unfolded her other leg from beneath her and placed both feet solidly on the floor, “Okay fine, you’re not kidding.” Mia said, leaning a hand on her knee, “I’m just having a little trouble believing—”
“That he isn’t as bad as you think?” Breahn supplied.
“The guy almost knocked my teeth out this morning! You really expect me to believe that when he’s not beating the crap out of me, he’s traipsing around picking flowers?”
A ridiculous image popped into Mia’s head as Breahn gave a loud snort—an image of Vander, walking daintily through a field of wild flowers with a small bouquet hanging from his hand and a crown of daisies upon his golden head. Mia’s lips wriggled and writhed but she couldn’t stop the grin that stretched across her face. Breahn laughed. “It’s not funny,” Mia said, trying and failing to look sufficiently annoyed.
“No,” The word came out in a breath of laughter and Breahn shook her head, “of course not. Not in the slightest.”
Mia stuck her tongue out at Breahn and took up her mending once more, studiously ignoring the other girl. But even as she concentrated on sewing—in one side, out the other, over, under, over, under, pull—Mia couldn’t fully block out the image she’d conjured earlier. Mia lowered her head to hide the smile that tugged insistently at her lips and found herself wondering what else Vander might be hiding beneath that granite exterior of his.