Chapter Four | Disagreements and Risk
Brady returned a few hours after Soren, Dorian, and Rey brought the fabric and thread back to their camp; and they managed to accomplish a lot even with their limited resources.
Rey and Dorian now had padded bedding three cloth pieces deep. Dorian demonstrated his cleverness by folding one piece of fabric into thirds rather than spreading out three separate cloth pieces. This allowed their beds to be close but separate, which was a good thing. Rey was known to “borrow” covers in his sleep.
They also managed to set up a tent-like overhang over their beds to help capture heat. This idea was Soren’s since he had more experience constructing tents.
When Brady returned empty handed, Soren couldn’t bite back his groan. His utterance earned him a spiteful glance from Brady. “What was that about?” he asked shortly. Soren glanced toward his brothers who were currently holding a race to see who could fold blankets and pack the essentials fastest.
“You’ve been gone for hours and you didn’t manage to find anything useful,” muttered Soren under his breath. Brady huffed and began heading for the beds. “Wait a second. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.”
Brady stopped, folded his arms across his chest, and turned to face Soren half-heartedly. “What’s that?” Soren cleared his throat and gestured for them to take a few steps away. Soren’s mind was racing, but he knew he had to bring it up – his brothers needed proper borrower training, and soon. Once they stepped away, Soren began.
“I’ve been thinking it over and I think it’s way past time we show Dorian and Rey how to start borrowing.” Like a band-aid, Soren blurted out the main objective. Brady stiffened instantly. He had never liked borrowing, which showed by his lack of effort and his complete lack of competence.
“Out of the question,” snapped Brady. “They’re far too young and we don’t know enough about this place.” [We’d know more if you would do something and contribute to the family.] Soren forced his thoughts to remain in his head. Instead, he took a calming breath through gritted teeth and stared at Brady.
“Look, I know we don’t agree on everything, hardly anything in fact; but they need this,” stated Soren. “If something were to happen to one or either of us, who would they turn to. They don’t even know the basics.” Brady growled, shoulders hunched and posture tightening.
“I feel like I already know some of the basics of this place. There are two entire apartments which aren’t being used by any humans. They can work on speed and strength, climbing and maneuvers. We can tell them all day about what they need to know and understand, but that’s no substitute for hands-on practice; and that’s what they need.”
“And what happens if and when humans fill those apartments? Where will they practice then?” demanded Brady.
“Then we’ll stay in the walls and practice or, better yet, take advantage of the havoc humans go through when relocating and borrow necessary building materials. These are fundamentals, Brady!”
“Don’t you raise your voice at me Soren. I’m older and more experienced. I’ve seen things…” Brady’s voice trailed off. Soren opened his mouth to argue back, but noticed a messy mop of light, sandy brown hair duck behind the corner. He pinched himself hard and held back.
“I don’t doubt that,” he said, keeping his voice measured. “Still, Dorian and Rey are what this is about. I’m looking out for my brothers and we’re doing them no favors by keeping them in the walls. They’ll have to learn one day, and now seems like the safest time.”
“So what? You’re asking my permission?” Soren had had enough.
“Not really,” he said quietly. “I’m just telling you what I’m planning and what I’m going to do. Join us if you get the chance.” [You might learn something.] Soren walked back around the corner toward their camp before Brady could respond. Their conversation hadn’t gone as smoothly as Soren would have liked, but at least he was able to say his piece.
When he returned, Dorian and Rey were huddled on their beds, legs crossed. They looked nervous. The sight made Soren’s heart sink. [They heard me arguing with their dad. Great.]
“Is… everything okay?” asked Rey, his soft, sweet voice barely carrying past their tent project. Soren tugged his lips into a partial grin, though it was more for reassurance than how he was actually feeling.
“Everything is fine. Your dad and I had a difference of opinion.” Soren remembered his mother had used this phrase when talking with Brady countless times. “We were talking about something important.”
“What’s that?” asked Dorian. Soren sighed before looking his brothers in the eye.
“Your borrowing training. It starts today.” The young boys’ eyes widened, each for a different reason. Dorian, excited, leapt out of the bed and cheered.
“No way! We’re going to get out and borrow stuff? That’s wicked awesome!”
Rey, on the other hand, seemed to shrink into himself a little more. He was excited, but also hesitant. Rey didn’t say anything, but Soren could tell the experience of seeing the outside world a few hours earlier was more scary than exciting than he let on initially.
“Since I have to go out again for food supplies, you can start with some simple exercises like pushups and leg bends. We’ll go over some of the basics tonight when I get back and start first thing in the morning. Sound good?”
“Awww!” whined Dorian. “Can’t we come with you? We can stay in the walls while you go out.” Soren chuckled.
“Not today bobbin. I have a long list of things I need to get. Anyway, you two have a task. See how many pushups and leg bends you can do until I get back, okay?” Soren smiled confidently at his brothers once they nodded an acknowledgment before standing and heading for his supply bag once more.
“Soren!” called Rey, stopping his brother in his tracks. “Be careful.” Soren nodded and gave a quick, two fingered salute before slinging his bag onto his back, securing his hook, and darting into the darkness of the halls.
Soren hated leaving his brothers, especially after they witnessed a disagreement; but it couldn’t be helped. Soren was confident they had supplies for the next two days; but for a family of four, it wasn’t reassuring. He had already caused too much ruckus in the older human’s apartment, meaning there was only one other place he knew he could go. Unfortunately, he suspected they were home.
The two humans, a man and woman, had sporadic schedules at best. The only upside was that they were often arguing or shouting at one another. Soren hated to think about what would happen if they turned their anger toward their unexpected house guests in the walls, but he was grateful too. If they were concerned with one another, they were distracted and less likely to find him.
Soren jogged to the line he left by the bread box. Instantly, he knew they were home. They were shouting again. Soren felt his heart racing, nerves tingling with unease. The humans sounded louder than usual. He shook his thoughts from his head and tugged on the line, making sure it was secure. Then, he started to climb.
He used his legs to secure the line and his hand to steady himself as he inched his way up the thread. All the while, he could hear more arguing and several loud thuds – dangerously close thuds. Soren hoisted his leg over the rim of the board and laid against the board. The electrical cover was just in front of him. He could hear the humans much clearer now.
“What do you mean, ‘it just happened’?!” The woman shouted.
“Like I said, it was an accident,” replied the man angrily.
“You don’t just fall over on top of someone and have everything after be ‘an accident’.” Soren didn’t understand humans as much as he would have liked, but he didn’t need to understand humans to suspect what had happened. The woman continued. “And you went out last night.”
“I didn’t think I was under house arrest,” retorted the man.
“No, you’re not; but I know you didn’t just go to the shop down the street. You went out with them again, didn’t you?”
“Don’t start with me.”
“You know what’ll happen and you choose to do the same thing over and over!”
Soren remained huddled next to the wall cover and listened for the next ten minutes. It sounded like they were close to the kitchen. If Soren was right, the man would grab the keys and leave while the woman would huff off to another room. Sure enough, the man grabbed the keys and left the kitchen while the woman stormed off. Soren waited until he heard the grinding, whirring gears of the door machine and the roar of the car speeding away. Soren waited another minute before pressing his ear directly against the electrical cover.
He concentrated his listening until he was satisfied with the amount of silence. With fleet fingers, he unscrewed his entrance and stepped out onto the counter. He checked the counter quickly before ducking into the bread box. He couldn’t stay long. There was some bread in the back that had been crushed slightly by a new loaf. Perfect. There was little chance they’d notice a crumpled piece of bread going missing.
Soren opened the bag and compressed the wrinkled slice into his bag. It wasn’t pretty, but an entire end half could last a few days. Soren resealed the bag as best as he could before surveying the counter again. His heart was still pounding, but he kept his breathing even. Soren was about to dart toward the cover when he noticed something on the counter past the stove. His eyes widened.
Fresh fruit, an entire bowl, was sitting on the counter. Soren bit his lower lip. Did he press his luck once again? He already had a close encounter with the cat. He knew the human was still in the apartment. He was fully aware the other human could return any minute. Yet, Soren knew he could grab the first berry he could and make it back to the wall in no time. Before his mind could convince him otherwise, he charged out into the open. He threw the bag onto the counter near the entrance and leapt from the counter onto the stove and onto the other side. It wasn’t a large jump, but it was wide enough to get his ankle caught if he wasn’t paying attention.
Soren wrapped his arms around the first piece he could carry safely, a bright red strawberry, before turning on his heel and darting back. He kept himself low. His chest hurt with every beat. Still, he managed to slip unseen into the wall with berry and bag in tow; and just in time too. Just as his trembling fingers pulled the cover back behind him, the whirring of the mechanical gears and the car came rolling up.
Not as close as the cat, but still risky. Soren made a note to never teach his brothers to take so many risks. He sat against the wood to catch his breath as he listened to the jingle of keys and the human entering the apartment.
He dared not witness another argument. Using his hook, he lowered his bag and the berry to the ground before slipping over the edge and rappelling down safely to the ground. Soren rolled his shoulders once he was securely on the ground once again. He had been lucky twice in one day. Despite this, he scolded himself. [Keep spending your luck like this and you won’t have any if you really need it. You need to set a better example for your brothers, and that won’t happen if you don’t exercise the right precautions.]
Soren slung his bag and the berry onto his back. [Be more careful from now on. Dad was always careful – I need to be too.] The walk back always seemed shorter and soon Soren was back at camp. The scolding he gave himself as he walked seemed less important when he watched the way his brothers’ eyes lit up at seeing him. The risk was worth seeing their bright eyes widen, sweetened naturally by the fresh fruit.
They had their fill, ensuring the rest was secured off of the ground and away from the walls as they curled up for bed. The fabric Soren retrieved was warm and soft, leaving all of them to a blissful sleep – necessary rest for the training ahead of them in the morning.