Chapter Twenty-Seven | Never Enough Time
Ashlynn headed out of the room, guarding the door and ensuring Austin didn’t slip through or spot Soren on her standing desk. He was asking her a hundred questions all at once, but Ashlynn was only concerned with getting Soren the supplies he needed to help save Brady. She was quick to lock the door behind her and went to the side closet and the bathroom for the other supplies – bandages, bowl of water, peroxide, cotton balls, q-tips – anything she could think of. Austin was right on her heels.
“What are those for? Did you cut yourself? Can I see? Does it hurt? Is there blood?” The boy’s questions fell on deaf ears as Ashlynn retreated back to the television and plugged in the next show she could think of that was actually appropriate for kids. Austin unfortunately seemed more interested in what Ashlynn was doing. She had to force herself to sit and fake an injury on her finger, answering Austin’s questions until the moving characters on the screen interested him more. Ashlynn took this time to slip back into the room to deliver the supplies.
In the meantime, Soren was left on his own on the top of the standing desk with Brady, who was still wheezing and unconscious. The bedroom door was open and shut in the blink of an eye, secured once again by Ashlynn. Austin attempted to slip into the room, but Ashlynn wouldn’t allow it. Soren thanked the heavens above Ashlynn was on his side.
The eldest Borrower turned his attention to his unconscious charge now. Soren had imagined in recent weeks what he would say or do to Brady if he ever had the chance. He debated which hand he would use to swing at Brady’s jaw first – the left or the right? What utterances and curses could he inflict on the one who abandoned him to die? What could he say? What could he do?
The possibilities at the time felt endless. All of that frustration, that rage, had built up and had been the sole driving force behind Soren’s motivation to get better faster as well as getting to his brothers. The revenge Soren craved and longed for now paled in comparison to what happened to Brady. The harm Soren wanted to inflict was done, and Soren couldn’t help but feel, of all things, pity. It was an uncommon feeling and one Soren had never felt for Brady.
So, Soren sat on the edge of the takeout box where Brady lay not sure what to do. That boiling frustration and desire to tell Brady exactly what he thought of him had not left Soren’s heart; but how could he beat an already broken man?
Soren wanted to shout, scream out his frustration, but he could not. For once in his life, he wanted to do something for him, but could not. He had to be the example. He had to show his brothers what it meant to be the bigger man; at least, as big as a Borrower can be.
The eldest Borrower had been so consumed with his thoughts that he didn’t notice the pale blue eyes of Brady flicker open and fixate on Soren’s contemplative face nor the door opening and Ashlynn stepping through with the necessary supplies.
What brought Soren’s attention back to the present was Brady’s rapid wheezing as Ashlynn’s shadow overcast them. Ashlynn apologized under her breath and retreated back to the boy watching cartoons. Brady’s eyes were lulling, but wild until they locked onto Soren sitting a few inches from him. Then, Brady stilled, his breath calming but only slightly.
The wheeze slowly began to sound like an intelligible form of speech, and one Soren recognized. “S-s-so-re-n?” It was his name accompanied by a tone of disbelief. “Yo-u’re… al-i-ve?” Soren bit back a snarl and simply glowered at him.
“I am, no thanks to you,” he retorted bitterly in reply. Brady’s eyes lulled again as his body attempted to pull him into unconsciousness. Soren, thinking of nothing better to do, grabbed a cotton ball and dipped it into the bowl of water to start cleaning the scabs, old and new, from Brady. He tore pieces more manageable for his hands from the large ball of fraying cotton threads and began dabbing at the wounds.
“Th-e b-oys?” came Brady’s fading voice again. Soren dipped the fistful of cloth in the water again and wrung it out before continuing.
“Better now,” replied Soren. He wanted to leave Brady in suspense but thought better of it. “They came and found me after you vanished.”
“Th-th-ey’re he-re?” asked Brady. “W-wi-th a hu-um-man? C-cap-tured pe-t-s?” The pace of Brady’s wheezing increased as this thought took over his mind. His good eye which wasn’t swollen looked around wildly as if Ashlynn or some other human were about to spring out of nowhere with Dorian and Rey in their fists. The thought of Dorian and Rey being captured evidently distraught him. Soren laid some of the slightly damp, clean cotton on Brady’s forehead.
“We’re not captured, and we’re certainly not pets,” said Soren stiffly. “Ashlynn is a kind person, more kind than any human story I’ve ever heard, and has done nothing but help us.” Brady looked terribly alarmed at this statement.
“Th-e hu-m-man’s tric-cked you,” wheezed Brady as he went to sit up and push himself away from Soren. There was an audible creaking in his bones as he did. In response, Soren took Brady’s shoulder and forced him back down onto the cloth Ashlynn had placed him on.
“No one tricked me,” hissed Soren deliberately as he continued to clean up the scratches covering Brady’s body. “Now, lay down before you hurt yourself worse.”
“You… need to leave be-fore the hu-man comes ba-ack. T-t-take th-e boys a-an-d leave,” groaned Brady. Soren stiffened and glared into Brady’s lolling eyes.
“I’m not going anywhere. I don’t abandon someone when they’re hurt and need help.” The jab felt justified but didn’t feel as sweet as Soren wanted. Insulting a fellow Borrower who was injured was a low blow, but Soren didn’t regret what he said. The bitter comment served two purposes – inform Brady that he wasn’t going to leave and that it wasn’t okay to leave.
Soren begrudgingly continued to clean Brady’s wounds, ignoring mutterings of protest and warnings the injured Borrower could come up with until he quieted, simply watching Soren work. The eldest Borrower’s mind was a thousand places at once. How would he set the bones if they were broken? What other injuries could he not see? The wheezing certainly was an indication of something happening on his insides.
More importantly, how was he going to break the news to Dorian and Rey? Though Soren wasn’t sure of how Doran and Rey currently felt about their father, they had a right to know that their father was alive.
The thoughts rattling around in Soren’s brain were suddenly interrupted by a half-choked whimper. “I… Soren… I’m so sorry.” The apology took Soren aback. Sorry? He’s sorry? Brady continued, moisture leaking from the corners of his eyes. His voice was weaker and raspier, no longer stammering in between wheezes. “I shouldn’t have left you. It should have been me. The boys are better off…”
“Stop it,” interrupted Soren. “For goodness sake don’t start talking like that now. You can’t change what happened, so stop talking like you can.” Soren’s scolding landed on mostly deaf ears as Brady slipped once again into the bliss of unconsciousness. He had apologized. The unexpected gesture was most likely out of guilt, but there were traces of sincerity in what was said. Could it be true?
Soren didn’t entertain the thought for long. Most likely there was guilt, but also truth to the words. Instead, he finished cleaning Dorian and Rey’s father, washing the remaining cuts and laying a refreshing wet cotton bundle on his forehead.
Perhaps it was because Soren didn’t notice or the fact that Brady’s body was finally beginning to relieve stress, but Brady’s skin now was beginning to burn with fever. Not good. Soren dipped a fresh bundle of cotton and laid it on Brady’s forehead while placing other bundles at his wrists and ankles.
The more Soren worked with Brady’s wounds, the more he started coming to a fatal conclusion – there was little to nothing that he could do. Between the deep bruises, oddly bent elements of his limbs, and the thin, frailness of his body, Soren reached the potential gut-wrenching conclusion that Brady might not make it. Despite his hatred among other mixed feelings of being abandoned and left responsible for raising Dorian and Rey for years, he couldn’t help but feel pity and an element of guilt for harboring his emotions against Brady.
It didn’t negate his feelings, and Soren was far from allowing them to dissipate; however, he allowed himself to consider for a moment that it was a childish thing to go so harshly on someone who may be dying.
When Soren did all he thought he could do, he braced himself for the conversation to come. The rope affixed to the standing desk that Ashlynn had placed felt heavier and dense. The fibers bit at Soren’s fingers as he descended, careful to make sure his recovering leg didn’t take the brunt of his weight. The pounding of his heart seemed slow as he glanced over his shoulder and glided down the line.
There was something freeing about being on the line. Moments of weightlessness as your weight was suspended, held only by the connection between fingers, feet, and the line. The free fall would be detrimental, but the suspension and controlled fall was thrilling. It was freeing. It was the only moment of peace available long enough to gather scattered and numbed thoughts.
Soren hoped he would have more time. There was never enough time.
Dorian and Rey, after watching Ashlynn come in and exchange hushed words with Soren after carrying in a strange container, hung curiously by the edge of the underneath of the bed. Seeing Soren sit up on the ledge so far away made them question what was happening, but the stillness of their brother perched up on the desk made them uneasy.
What was Soren doing? He didn’t say anything to them. Why wasn’t he saying anything? They discussed what could be happening and elected to run out to interrogate him the moment he touched the ground just as Soren began descending to the ground.
“Soren! What’s going on? What did Ashlynn want? What’s up there?” The boys’ questions were rapid fire and pummeled Soren’s numbed mind. Where do I even begin? What do I say?
Soren’s mind fumbled as he stepped beneath the desk, his younger brothers quieting at his silence. It wasn’t until they saw the look on his face that the younger Borrowers realized something was wrong.
It was then that the right words came to the oldest sibling.
“I… need you both to sit down for a second,” muttered Soren. Dorian and Rey glanced warily at one another, but sat on the leg of the standing desk in front of Soren. Blood was rushing through Soren’s head and roaring in his ears. His breath stilled. From the depths of his mind, he recalled the sweet, kind words that haunted him.
“Dorian… Rey… there’s been an accident.” Dorian and Rey instantly glanced over at him, curious and confused. Soren steadied his breath. Why was he feeling so anxious?
“What kind of accident?” asked Rey, his once quiet personality bursting into curiosity and boldness. “Are you okay?” Soren nodded, a fragment of a smile on his face before it faded once again.
“Yes, I’m okay. It’s… your dad. There’s been an accident with your dad.” The words were delivered hollowly, but their impact was obvious. Soren watched Dorian and Rey’s faces melt from a nervous excitement to deep, unbiased concern and pain.
“What?” They asked simultaneously, leaping to their feet. “What do you mean? An accident? Is he okay? Where did he go?”
Soren quieted them by clasping their shoulders; and, in an instant, they seemed to understand as they sat back down onto the leg of the standing desk.
“Ashlynn just brought him in. He… didn’t leave. A… he… it was an accident, but a human boy… saw him and kept him all this time,” said Soren. He tried to keep to the facts and be as honest as he could. That being said, he didn’t want to scar his brothers or turn them from their friend Ashlynn.
“Is… is he… going to be okay? Can we go see him?” asked Dorian, his tone of voice small and shaking like Rey’s voice used to be. Soren nodded slowly, ensuring to look into their eyes with confidence and affirmation; however, he couldn’t disguise the elements of fear he had deep in his eyes. Don’t lie to them. Be honest, but not to hurt them.
“I… Ashlynn and I are going to do everything we can; but, he’s a bit beat up. He’s got bruises and hasn’t eaten in a little bit, so he’s going to look a little different. He’s resting now,” said Soren calmly. “It may be hard to see him, but you need to make sure you see him.”
Dorian and Rey, panic and sadness in their eyes, nodded solemnly. Somehow they understood innately that Soren was worried. It was going to be rough. Soren knew that much. He nodded and pulled them in for a hug. Their little shoulders were shaking; but, then again, so were Soren’s shoulders.
The words. They were the same kind of words used by Soren’s mother, Emma Lee, used when Soren’s father didn’t come home. They were eerily similar, but at least this one had some kind of resolution. Soren waited until they pulled away before giving the most reassuring smile he could muster and guiding them to the bed to wait until Ashlynn could bring Brady to the ground.
Though warned, there was little else they could do to prepare other than wait. This was going to be a long day.