A Tall and Small Collection | Soren |

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Chapter Twenty-Nine | Goodbye

The next few days were odd and dreary for Ashlynn and the boys. Low hanging clouds of spring loomed in the air threatening rain. They spent their days mostly in silence, though Ashlynn did eventually convince them to go out into the living area, rest on the couch, and watch a movie on the television.

Dorian and Rey had only caught glimpses of shows through the ceiling tiles and floorboards when they were at their old place, and never did they get to see it from front to finish in one sitting. They picked out snacks that weren’t stale and had an entire sofa cushion to themselves with a blanket and everything. The thoughtful gesture led to a night they cherished and remembered forever.

Though it in no way compensated for the events of the week prior, it did bring something that was sorely needed – family.

While the night was fantastic and seemed to last forever, Soren couldn’t help but feel this nagging tug in the back of his mind. He was better, leg restored to almost back to normal other than the occasional ache. His two younger brothers were with him again, and the spark in their eyes, though dulled because of recent events, had returned. This time with Ashlynn was precious and quite literally life saving, but this wasn’t how things were supposed to be.

The Borrower rules, though broken, were clear – they needed to leave. Soren didn’t want to leave and finally admitted to himself that he felt attached to Ashlynn. A genuine friendship was there between them, and just the thought of leaving was heart crushing. Soren justified his resolution to leave in that they didn’t need to leave the building and they could, in theory, “accidentally” be seen by Ashlynn again while they were out borrowing. Nothing really stopped them from occasionally seeing their human friend.

But, would that be right? At least, in accordance with those sacred rules? What if another Borrower family moved in and Ashlynn noticed them, revealing she knew of the Borrower existence? Soren didn’t fear what Ashlynn would do, but it would undoubtedly lead to panic for that family.

He wasn’t sure which route he wanted to go, but there was one thing he knew for certain. If they didn’t go back to a true Borrower life, they would be no better than being pets. Ashlynn would never see them that way – Soren knew that; however, there was pride in being able to take care of oneself and one’s family. Plus, what would happen to Dorian and Rey if something happened to Soren and Ashlynn went somewhere else to live? She may take them with her, but would they ever want to live on their own? Same scenario.

After the movie ended, they all turned in for the evening to sleep – all except Soren. The eldest Borrower spent half an hour gathering up his belongings in his pack and another twenty arranging bags for Dorian and Rey. It wasn’t going to be an easy conversation, but it needed to be done. At least an hour was spent lying beside his brothers staring up at the box springs and the frame thinking about what he was going to say to both his brothers and to Ashlynn.

He broached the subject once before with Ashlynn and it led to a tense conversation and, ultimately, she said she would be fine with whatever decision they made but it would make her sad to see them leave.

We won’t be gone gone. Not really. We’ll still be around and can still talk if we want. Thought Soren as he heard his brothers mutter something in their sleep and drag the covers in their direction away from him. They need to learn how to be proper Borrowers. Mom would’ve wanted it that way.

Eventually, Soren slipped into sleep and woke up the next morning to Ashlynn’s alarm. He watched her feet swing over the edge of the bed, the bedframe creaking in protest above them.

Now is as good of a time as any to prepare her.

Soren pulled what little blankets were still covering him, stretched, and walked up to the edge of the bed just as Ashlynn stood up and began to tiptoe her way to the door.

“Ashlynn!” he called in the softest shout he could manage. The boys didn’t need to be awake just yet. Ashlynn froze and scanned the ground until she spotted him, a visible and slightly sleepy smile crossing her face as she knelt.

“Morning,” she muttered, stifling a yawn. “What are you doing up so early? I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, you didn’t wake me. I mean, I heard your alarm, but I was kind of up anyway,” replied Soren. Ashlynn blinked a few times, seemingly reading into his words.

“Good to hear I guess. Everything okay?” she asked. Soren’s chest tightened involuntarily. There was a pang in his chest. No, everything isn’t okay. I’m about to make a decision I don’t want to make.

“Kind of,” was the response he gave. “Do you… I mean, do you think we could talk for a second?”

For a moment, there was something in Ashlynn’s eyes – something that seemed to already know where this was going. She didn’t say anything and, instead, laid her hand on the ground for him to come with her. Soren noticed only after he had climbed onto the tips of her fingers and knelt that he hadn’t flinched when she approached and climbed on with ease. Silently, he wondered how much he had changed since staying with his human friend.

Friend. Yeah, I guess that’s what we are. I have a human friend. I can only imagine what Dad would say.

Ashlynn ascended carefully, but it still sent a rush of chills through Soren’s entire body. The sensation of rising quickly made his head spin. It was exhilarating. Ashlynn stepped out of the room, past the hallway, and into the kitchen to start her morning coffee and breakfast, setting Soren down on the counter by the breadbox. She was quiet for a minute, as was Soren.

Ashlynn seemed to understand wordlessly that Soren was working out what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it in his head. The silence hovering in the kitchen was only mildly uncomfortable until she spoke.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you.” The statement was like a knife to the side. Soren couldn’t help but look away, his chest tightening again. It was said so conclusively, like she expected him to say yes. His reaction was all she needed to confirm. Her jaw tightened and arms instinctually folded across her chest, head bobbing up and down in a nodding motion as if that would help her accept it. There was a harsh pang of guilt in his chest, but his words were failing him. What should he say? What could he say?

“When? Where will you go?” she asked eventually. Soren swallowed the lump forming in his throat and leaned against the breadbox.

“I’m… not sure yet.” This earned an almost disbelieving look from Ashlynn. “Really, I don’t know. I think we should just go ahead and leave today. No sense in prolonging it and, I mean, we’re supposed to leave the building entirely, but…” Soren couldn’t believe himself. His heart was pounding in his chest. The tightening was beginning to constrict his lungs. The Borrower didn’t need to look to sense Ashlynn’s blue-grey eyes on him.

“But… you don’t want to?” she finished hesitantly. Soren was shaking his head before he realized what he was doing.

“Then just stay! I know you said you’re supposed to leave, but why can’t you just stay? I already know about you and your brothers. Sure, there are rules, but you can still do your thing without feeling trapped and everything else.” Ashlynn hadn’t raised her voice, but there was a distinct tremor in each word she spoke.

Soren placed his hands on his hips, keeping his eyes averted, as he absorbed Ashlynn’s words. It was true. They could in theory stay and continue their lives, but it was more than that.

“We could do that,” he muttered. “But the same thought keeps coming back to me.” He paused to breathe. “What if something else happens to me and I can’t take care of myself and the boys? Or, worse, I’m not around to take care of them. They’re young and need to learn how to be proper Borrowers in order to survive. They can’t rely on you to take care of them, and I don’t think they’ll take training seriously if they know they can come back.”

“Plus,” Soren continued when Ashlynn didn’t say anything. “What do you do when you want to do something else with your life? What if you move? Package us up and take us with you? When you get married, does your husband get to know about us? Your kids? It’s not fair to you to put life or anything on hold because of us.”

Soren glanced up, letting his hazel brown eyes seek out those blue-grey orbs he once feared. There would have been perfect silence between them except for the coffee pot trickling the liquid caffeine into the glass container. It was the perfect combination white noise and measurement of time as the pot filled nearly three levels before either of them spoke.

“Will…” Ashlynn sniffed and wiped her finger over her eye before folding her arms against her chest again and looking away. “Will I see you again?” Soren had to think about the question. Would he see her again?

“I hope so,” he said quietly. “I really hope so.” Ashlynn nodded, stepping up to the counter and laying her hands on the surface mere inches from him. Soren walked up to her hand and laid his hand against hers in some kind of attempt to console her. She knelt so she was just at eye level, a forced smile tugged on one corner of her lips. Soren mimicked the smile and stepped forward just enough so their foreheads could touch.

“I can never thank you enough for everything you’ve done. I’m… I’m sorry Ashlynn. I wish things were different,” and he meant it. If things were different, maybe he would stay; but they weren’t.

They stayed there for a time before both simultaneously pulled away from the moment. Ashlynn finished making breakfast for them in silence and brought him back to her room before starting her work day.

Soren thankfully had a few more hours before his brothers woke up. Unfortunately, the conversation went the same way with Dorian and Rey as it did for Ashlynn. Dorian seemed to be more accepting of the idea of returning to a true Borrower life while Rey was more resistant and asked twice as many questions. The youngest among them didn’t understand why they needed to leave and even after receiving an explanation suggested that they could still see and hang out with Ashlynn if they were “accidentally” seen.

While Soren wasn’t completely against the idea, he couldn’t have them think it was okay to be seen – even if it was by someone they knew and cared about very much. It was heartbreaking telling them they were leaving later that day and Soren could’ve sworn they were moving slower than normal when gathering up a few of the odds and ends they had collected while staying with Ashlynn.

The hours dragged by and, after numerous times asking, Soren promised they could have dinner together and say good-bye before leaving; not that it was going to change anything.

Much like other dinners they shared, there was some conversation and a few jokes. Ashlynn sat on the floor of her room, back against a nearby dresser, so they could talk better. The looming fact of them leaving seemed to dissipate after a while, but returned once the dishes were cleared.

The eldest Borrower could already see tears in Rey’s pale blue eyes while Dorian seemed slightly more anxious – like Ashlynn wouldn’t let them leave. He gave them reassuring hair ruffles before heading over to the electrical cover in Ashlynn’s room. Memories of him making a mad dash for the cover trying desperately to escape flashed in his mind as he began unscrewing the cover. It was so long ago that he had those fears and thoughts.

Ashlynn had come over at that point and was sitting on the ground near the three brothers. The rims of her eyes were slightly pink, and her blue-grey eyes looked like a cloudy morning sky threatening rain. At last, the cover came loose just enough for them to slip through.

“Ready?” he asked, keeping his back to them for a moment longer. He heard Rey sniff loudly. Ashlynn exhaled slowly, breath shaking in her chest.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay. Maybe we’ll see each other soon, yeah?” asked Ashlynn with a sad smile. “Hey, chin up.” Ashlynn slowly extended her hand, palm down, and tapped the ground a few times with her index finger. Rey wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeves and nodded bravely.

“Yeah, really soon,” he sniffed. Without warning, Rey jogged forward a few steps and threw his arms around Ashlynn’s finger, hugging it as tight as he could. Dorian, to Soren’s surprise, did the same thing. It was obvious Ashlynn was holding her fingers as still as possible, but that didn’t stop her other hand from reaching out and gently brushing against their backs.

The boys pulled away from the embrace and looked to Soren. “Come on bobbins. Time to go.” The younger brothers nodded and one after the other slipped through the electrical cover, leaving Soren alone. He looked back at Ashlynn, each forcing a smile.

“Thank you Ashlynn,” said Soren, thankful Ashlynn couldn’t hear the tightness in his voice or the few times he needed to clear his throat to muster those simple three words. He set his pack onto the ground and he too walked up to her hand. Though instead of hugging the top of her fingers as his brothers had done, he deliberately stepped between her thumb and index finger, wrapping his arm around the base of her index finger and letting her fingers close over his back.

He stayed there for a moment before pulling away. He could see tears in Ashlynn’s eyes. It’s time he told himself. Soren nodded one last time before turning around, grabbing his pack, and climbing through the cover.

“Goodbye, Ashlynn,” said Soren as he stepped into the shadows of the walls and toward his brothers. Just behind him, he could hear Ashlynn choke a sob.

“Goodbye Soren.”

~~~~~^*^*^~~~~~

Ashlynn watched the three Borrower boys disappear into the wall. Not wanting to do anything else, she turned off the lights to her room and slipped into bed, letting the quiet tears slide down her cheeks.

~~~~~^*^*^~~~~~

Soren and his brothers eventually made their way back to the ceiling tile home Brady had initially made for them. Their camp was still intact, but it was considerably more dusty and looked like it had been disturbed at some point or another.

They spent time tidying up the area and went to bed soon after. Soren was glad for the dimmed light of the walls and some sort of task to do. It kept his mind from wondering what Ashlynn might be doing or how they were going to handle interacting with her in the future. Now that she knew about them, she would undoubtedly leave things for them to borrow.

Soren didn’t want to think about that right now. Instead, he laid next to his brothers and stared at the floor joists of the apartment above them and hoped they didn’t notice the gloss in his eyes in the dimmed light.

~~~~~^*^*^~~~~~

It was a few weeks later when she finally closed back the electrical cover, making sure she didn’t screw it back too tight in case they wanted to come back this way. Ashlynn left things on the counter from time to time. Little things like paperclips, pins, spools of thread and dried food. She even tampered with her breadbox so it hung open ever so slightly.

Every once in a while, she would notice some of those items were disturbed. There would be one or two fewer paperclips, or a piece of bread would be missing. At least that’s what she thought anyway. A few times, she thought she heard the sound of quick footsteps on the counter or along the ceiling in the night. Could that be them? Or someone new?

~~~~~^*^*^~~~~~

It was just over two months since that day when the Borrowers had left to go back to their way of life. Ashlynn was on the couch typing out a few ideas she had for a project she was working on – as well as an idea for a children’s book about people who live in the walls. It would never see the light of day, but at the very least she would have something to remember them by.

That’s when she heard something. A quick whirling sound and a “thunk” in the coffee table. Did she dare move? Ashlynn held her breath, heartrate instantly tripling in pace. Her fingers danced over the keys as her eyes unfocused, trying to catch a glimpse around her laptop screen.

That’s when she heard it. The softest, most wonderful words she could hear from a familiar older brother she helped nurse back to health.

“Hey Ashlynn.”

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