Chapter Eight: "As The Days Pass By" (part 2)
Mister West comes up to her six days after Kaethe and Rett have been given permission to stay in Barrow. Her brother is out on the porch, sitting on the steps and encouraging Louk in his endeavor to master shooting from his left – and by ‘encouraging’ it is more attempting to throw off the boy’s aim as he is exhaling to loose. Hale is down in Knoll, visiting with friends and picking up a list of groceries that he had taken along with a grumble about how shopping shouldn’t be solely his contribution to the family. She and Mister West are the only two inside, standing across from each other in the sitting room. And though she is slowly beginning to grow comfortable around the man, she is still startled by his towering size, curling her arms over her chest protectively – even if she knows that the man would never hurt her.
There is a thick lidded-crate clutched in Mister West’s hands that he drops down at his feet with a heavy thunk. She stares at it, stares up at him, trying to figure out just what it is without asking.
She comes up with a blank.
“What is it?” she asks, trying to be polite because this man has already done so much for her; more than is required; more than he probably ever should.
He laughs, bending down and lifting the latch. Inside are piles of folded clothes, from pants to shirts to socks and one solitary dress. They’re a little bland, a range of shades in earthen tones, but when she holds up a pair of pants she is surprised to find that they were stitched for a woman.
“These were my cousin’s,” he explains with a sadly distant smile. “Hale and Louk’s mother. She was a bit bigger than you, but I figured these would be better than walking around in my nephews’ clothes.”
Kaethe nods, still staring down at the crate. “Are . . . are you sure?”
“They haven’t been used in over sixteen years,” Mister West explains quietly. “Not since . . . well, I could never bring myself to throw out any of their things, which turns out to be a good thing as you could put them to good use. You could take them in if you want so that they would fit you better. Or we can go to the seamstress in Knoll to have them done. Or, if you’re not interested, I can get you a new wardrobe. Whichever you like.”
The offer is much more than kind, and Kaethe doesn’t even think when she steps up to the older man and throws her arms around his waist. “Thanks, Mister West,” she tells him firmly. “They’re great. You didn’t have to, but thanks.”
“Didn’t have to,” he scoffs, patting her shoulders, a little awkward but not shoving her away. “Of course I did. You and your brother are under my guardianship. I’m responsible for you.”
“Actually,” she says while stepping away, “Rett and I are both considered adults in Thress. We come of age at seventeen there.”
“Well you’re in Barrow now, and in Barrow children don’t grow up until they are twenty-one. So, no, you aren’t. I am your guardian for as long as you stay. Not only was it one of the stipulations set by the Council, but it is also something that I requested. Your brother saved my nephew. It’s the least I can do. And I wanted to.”
She nods while pulling on the rolled sleeves of her sweater – from the way it hangs off her shoulder she can safely assume that it came from Hale. It’s strange, hearing that this Barren, a man who for all intents and purposes should hate her based on her nationality, wants to look after her, wants to give her a place to stay and clothes to wear and food to eat. It’s strange because she has been looking after herself for years, her parents always off on business for the Guild. And now there is someone else, someone she has known for barely even a week, someone who wants to take the burden of adulthood from her. Kaethe will let him, wanting the stress and strain to be gone so that she can, maybe, move on from what happened not so very long ago.
“Did you know that both Hale and Louk took me aside and asked if you could stay here? Both of them. At different times. Hale wanted to help you; you and your brother. He feels responsible for you and like he owes your brother.”
“No, he doesn’t owe Rett anything. He saved us first. Rett was just returning the favor.”
Mister West hums thoughtfully. “Your brother said the same thing when I spoke to him about it.”
“Well he doesn’t. And even if he did, I’m pretty sure bringing us here made us indebted to him now, and there’s nothing we can do to repay him or your or Louk for that.”
“. . . Louk wanted to keep the two of you,” Mister West says after a moment, smiling as he shakes his head. “Like pets I think. He promised to feed the two of you and play with you and make sure you had a place to sleep.”
She stares at him.
“I want to say that he’s joking but I can’t be entirely too sure. He’s . . . he’s different, that one. A little crazy, a little too interested in having a laugh. But he means well. He’s just . . . doesn’t settle down well, I guess. He never has. That boy is always moving, always talking. He can never sit still, can never be quiet. I think it’s physically impossible for him.”
“Sounds a little like my brother.”
Mister West laughs. “That would explain why they get along so well.”
“Which isn’t always necessarily a good thing,” she adds.
“No. No it’s not.”
There is an indignant cry from outside. It is soon followed by echoing chortles of deep laughter, mocking long before Rett calls out a remark on Louk being ‘a top-notch marksman. Where did you learn to hit those innocent flowers? What’ve they ever done to you?’ To which Louk replies with grumbles and the distinct sound of an arrow striking wood. Her brother squeals in surprise and outrage, wondering if the Barren is trying to kill him.
“Nooo,” Louk drawls innocently. “It was an accident.”
“You missed me by an inch!”
“Good thing you’re less endowed down there, then, eh?”
Her brother splutters while she and Mister West jump in shock.
“He sounds just like Rett,” she hisses, to herself but loud enough that Mister West picks up on it.
“There’s two of them,” he says backs, shaking his head. “Perhaps this was not such a good idea.” He smiles and claps her shoulder gently to let her know that he is only joking around. “If you venture outside try to make sure they don’t ruin the house. Or the yard. Or each other too much. If things get out of hand . . . I will be hiding in my study.”
She smiles back, nodding her head. “Sir yes sir.” She gives him a salute as he disappears down the hall, and then turns her attention to the crate while her brother and Louk continue to yell vulgar insults at each other outside. Not interested in getting any closer to that, or drawn into that, she gathers the crate in her arms and goes up to her room, intent on working on bringing the clothes closer to her size so that the ropes and suspenders she is forced to deal with can go away, never to be seen again.
“Get back here, ya freakin’ ferret!”
“Come an’ get me, Eive! You’re slower than molasses! Doc Ensen’s faster ‘an you!”
Kaethe shakes her head, pulling out the needle and thread she found in the wobbly desk drawers. She settles down to start on the first pair of pants, tuning out the laughing that is drifting up through her window because happiness is not something she is willing to allow herself to feel – even though her lips do quirk up in the beginnings of a smile that she does not want.