A Tall and Small Collection | Soren |

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Chapter Twenty-Eight | Distracting Stories

It felt like the day was draining away. Each second dragged its feet for the next second to procrastinate even longer than the last. It was agonizing.

It wasn’t that Soren lacked confidence in his younger siblings to climb up the staggering height of the standing desk. It wasn’t that Soren didn’t want them to see Brady. It was his belief that this needed to be handled in a calm environment and an anxious climb up the line would only exacerbate and taint the encounter.

If Brady couldn’t pull through, Soren wanted Dorian and Rey, at the very least, to be able to say good-bye calmly and in their own way. Sitting exposed on a desk felt more like a display.

So, they sat just under the edge of the bed and waited the painstaking time until they heard Ashlynn’s muffled voice through the door. She was talking to someone and, instinctually, they pulled further into the shadows of the bed comforter as the voice of another woman and presumably the boy responsible for Brady’s injuries. The conversation lasted for a few minutes before the door shut with a dulled thud.

Moments later, Ashlynn knocked on the door and peaked her head into the room. “Soren? Are you okay?” She took a hesitant step into the room. “I’m coming in.” The Borrowers stepped out from their shadowed concealment, both Dorian and Rey clinging to each of Soren’s arms not from fear but for comfort and reassurance.

Ashlynn’s eyes scanned the ground carefully, lighting up with recognition and a twinge of sadness upon spotting the three familiar faces she had grown accustomed to seeing every day. She could see out of the corner of her eye that the container hadn’t moved, and neither did Brady. A subtle sense of gratitude washed over Ashlynn. Leaving Soren alone with the guy who he was angry enough to throttle wasn’t ideal and Ashlynn wondered what Soren might do the moment she left; but thankfully he hadn’t tried to move Brady off of the desk or do anything else reckless.

Instinctively, she closed the door behind her and knelt. It had become second nature, kneeling to not seem so intimidating. Following their pattern, they began to approach. She couldn’t imagine what was going on in the young boys’ heads. Well… she could… but she shrugged it off. Telling them a story of how she had an idea of what they were going through would redirect the attention from Brady who still wasn’t out of the woods yet.

She snapped out of her gaze just as Soren tried to get her attention. “Yes? Sorry,” she apologized, her blue-grey eyes fixating on his steeled features. Soren’s hazel eyes, filled with the pain of others, had a false hardness to them. Even if the eldest of the three brothers didn’t care for Brady, it was still obvious that a life was a life to him.

“No, it’s okay. Um… Ashlynn, could you… bring down the box and put it by the bed?” asked Soren. She fulfilled the request, carefully keeping the container level and placing it by the bed. The younger two kept close to Soren’s side as he muttered a brief “thank you” and guided them to the makeshift bed.

~~~~~

Dorian and Rey weren’t sure what they were expecting. Despite the fact that Soren had warned them, it didn’t stop their breath from hitching in their throat after uttering the faintest gasps. Soren was right, their dad did look different. He was thinner and bruised. Things just looked… off. He was asleep at the moment, but that didn’t seem to deter their older brother who guided them forward to the edge of the container.

“H-how long will he be…?” The question could be filled in a number of ways, but Soren simply pulled Dorian further under his arm in a half shoulder hug.

“He needs his rest, but I’m sure we’ll wake up soon.” The words soothed Dorian and Rey’s minds, but it seemed to be just now sinking in how terrible the wounds actually were. They wordlessly sat on the edge and waited for their dad to regain consciousness.

In the meantime, Soren stepped off to the side toward Ashlynn. He wasn’t sure when he became comfortable with it, and perhaps the circumstances left him numb, but when he saw her hand extended and laid on the ground he stepped onto it. She raised him up, pulling him slightly to the side.

“You okay?” she asked softly. Soren, finding it better to kneel on her hand rather than stand, readjusted so his legs could dangle from the edge. Something about the warmth of her hand was oddly soothing. Soren gave a non-committal shrug, rubbing his eyes in hopes that would alleviate the rising tension. “That bad?”

Soren nodded. “I don’t know if he’s going to pull through Ashlynn.” The utterance was a harsh one and certainly conveyed Ashlynn’s worst fear after discovering the injured Borrower. “I mean, I was in bad shape but this is…”

“We’ll figure it out,” reassured Ashlynn. “And… you have me, if you need anything.” Soren looked up into her blue-grey eyes.

“Thanks,” he smiled. “We could really use that right now.”

The moment would have lasted longer if Rey’s shout didn’t redirect their attention. “Soren! He woke up! He’s awake! He’s awake!” Ashlynn startled, shaking her hand enough to make Soren gasp and throw himself backwards to make sure he didn’t accidentally fall off of her hand. She lowered her hand so Soren could step off and be led quickly to where Brady lay.

The breathy words were accompanied by a slight wheezing sound. Undoubtedly, it was Brady speaking. Dorian was currently clinging to his father’s hands as he listened intently to what he was saying. Soren only picked up on the last bits of it, but whatever was said before obviously was upsetting the middle brother based on the tears in his eyes.

“Be sure to look after Rey, okay?” wheezed Brady.

“Okay dad.” Dorian agreed without hesitation. Soren bit his tongue. He wanted to scold Brady for talking like this to his son; at the same time, if this made him feel better Soren couldn’t deny him. Instead, he went for a slightly less harsh approach.

“You don’t need to be worrying about that,” said Soren. “We all look out for each other, just like how we’re going to look after those bruises of yours.” Rey scurried from Soren’s side and hopped into the container, so he and Dorian were on opposite sides of Brady.

“Yeah dad,” Rey chimed in. “We look out for each other.” They were silent for a few minutes, none of them certain of what to say until Soren had enough. They needed something – anything – to lighten the mood. He sat on the edge of the container, a faint smile on his lips.

“Do you remember the first time you saw snow Rey? Dorian?” All three of them redirected their attention to the seemingly unrelated words, clinging to them as a wanted distraction. Rey and Dorian both shook their heads at first before Dorian piped up.

“It was in the old house, right?” asked Dorian. Soren nodded.

“Yeah,” the eldest muttered. “The old house. We were walking up and down the walls searching for buried treasure. There was the split in the wall that we hadn’t explored. Remember? So, we followed it and ended up outside right as it started snowing.”

“I… think I remember that,” muttered Rey. “It was by the climbing bush, right?”

“Right,” confirmed Soren. “It was freezing outside, and we almost turned back if not for the snow.”

“I remember. The snowflakes were huge. Almost as big as Rey,” Dorian chimed in. “Not that it was hard to do.”

“Hey!” Rey retorted. “I wasn’t that little.” Their reactions, like clockwork, shifted from frowning and sad to small grins of amusement. Slowly, the stories continued to trickle out from things Soren remembered and questions from Dorian and Rey. Brady chimed in every once in a while, but for the most part listened as the three boys talked.

Soren could see fragments of wincing smiles from Brady, as if he could see each memory play out as they talked. Slowly, the mood lightened. They talked for hours, Brady fading in and out from time to time. They would check on him, see if ne heeded anything in particular, but his answer was the same.

“I’m just glad to be here with you boys.”

They ate dinner at some point, and Soren gave a more thorough check-up on Brady; and it wasn’t good. His fever was spiking despite the cold cotton cloth bundles on his forehead and wrists. His breathing was more shallow than before and Soren swore the wheezing was getting worse.

Soren remembered these same symptoms from his mother. It wasn’t a good sign. At some point in the night, Brady called the boys to his side, saying how much he loved them and how proud he was of them. The night was a somber one, and one they wouldn’t forget.

Ashlynn had stayed up, not wanting them to be alone but feeling awkward at the same time, feeling this was something private she wasn’t meant to be a part of. What pieces stood out in Ashlynn’s mind was the way Rey came out, sniffling and stifling soft whimpers. She sat on the ground and watched him curl up in her hand.

The human did what she could to offer comfort, rubbing his shoulders with the tips of her fingers as delicately as she could. It was so easy to forget how small he was for how much personality he had shown since being here with her.

She knew it was difficult and that the morning would be even worse; but, for now, she let her fingertips stroke the boy’s back and cradle him until he drifted off to sleep.

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