“Arsha!...” No answer. All was silent save the bubbling of the brook and the creaking of the deck’s boards under my feet. “Arsha Salvator! You come here now, or else daddy’s going to be upset!” Still... nothing.
Oh, she’s in for it now.
I made my way across the bridge and through the marshy meadow to the distant base of the hill; her favorite playing spot.
The sun had just hidden itself behind the west slope of the valley when I found Arsha sitting in the middle of a small ring of rocks. It was apparent she was having a ‘picnic’ with her ragdolls. I called out, “Arsha.” She jumped, only just noticing my presence. “Do you see the sun, Arsha?” I asked sternly, folding my arms.
She knit her eyebrows and looked past me. “Ummm... no, daddy.”
“Exactly. I told you to come home before the sun went away! You know this is an important rule.”
She pouted and turned away. “It’s not fair. It’s pretty at night-time.”
“I know it’s pretty my little Pebble, but I’ve told you once, and I’ll tell you again, dangers lurk in the dark. With beauty, there is always danger.”
“But mommy is beautiful!”
I chuckled. “Yes, yes she is... and very dangerous.”
I lifted her frail body in my arms. “Come, Pebble, it’s time to go to bed.” I carried her through the marsh, and into the house. It is a large house, but simple, giving it a humble look. I entered the kitchen and set Arsha on the counter, inspecting her body to look for any cuts or bruises. She had a large scrape on the bottom of her elbow. “Pebble! How did this happen?”
“I don’t know, daddy, you know I don’t feel those...”
I grimaced. “I know, I know, Arsh.” I smiled. “But I bet it’ll turn into a cool battle scar.” I poked her in the side and tickled her.
“Stop it, stop it!” She couldn’t stop giggling. “I... can’t... breathe!”
“Ok, ok Pebble, bed time.” I washed her off and then chased her into her bed.
“Can I have a story tonight, daddy?”
“No my Pebble, not tonight, it’s too late for that. If you wanted a story, you should have come home on time.”
She made a pouty face.
“Now, now, Arsha! If you make a face like that, the monster under your bed will have no choice but to eat you!”
“Sleep well Pebble, and dream better.” I kissed her forehead and tucked her in.
I walked to the doorway, turning my head, “Goodnight, Arsh.”
The door creaked as I swung it shut. I walked across the hall to the opposite door and poked my head in. My son was laying in his bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Good night, Kuruk”
I hesitated, “You did good today”
He rolled over, facing the wall. “Thanks”
I shut his door, but didn’t leave. I pressed my ear on the door and listened, trying to listen for any movement.
Nothing, just silence. I sighed.
What am I gonna do with that kid?
I walked into the kitchen, and saw Tula washing the dinner dishes. She wore a plain blue dress that ended at her ankles, with hazelnut hair that fell down her back in a loose braid.
Jeez I’m a lucky man.
The spray of water on plates drowned out the sound of my footsteps as I crept up to her. Once I was right behind her, I grabbed her shoulders. “Hi baby!”
She shrieked. “Dason! How many times do I-”
I placed my hand over her mouth. “Shhhhhh there’s kids in bed!”
She attempted to speak, but all I could hear was a series of muffled grunts. Scowling, she jabbed at my side with a spoon and ducked under my arm to escape.
I laughed in pain, “All right, all right, you win.”
Tula huffed. “You, Dason Salvator, are-”
“-the love of your life?”
She cracked a smile. “I suppose”
I pumped my fist.
She rolled her eyes and pulled me into a hug. She was warm, and smelled like soap and honey. Letting out a sigh, she mumbled, “I feel like I haven’t seen you at all today, stranger.”
It was true, I had spent most of my time on the hill teaching Kuruk magic. It used to be a weekly practice, but during the last few months it had changed into a daily routine as Kuruk’s curiosity and eagerness towards the art had grown. And besides, the sooner he knew everything, the better.
We stood, hugging in silence, soaking in each other's presence to make up for all the time we missed today.
Tula rested her head on my shoulder, breaking the silence, "How was Arsh? Was she okay when you found her?"
"Yeah, she's fine. I found her at the end of the meadow, having a picnic in the rocks."
I shook my head, "That girl is getting braver and braver every day. I remember just last year when she was too scared to cross the meadows alone! She used to only be comfortable with the river, but she's growing up I guess."
Standing up straighter, Tula looked me in the eyes. She had beautiful hazel eyes that seemed to glint with every shade of color anytime they moved. Right now, they were creased with motherly concern. "Dason, I'm worried for her."
This was a common topic of conversation.
"Honey, she's fine, she knows to be careful whenever-"
"Promise me you'll keep a close eye on her."
"I already do."
"More than you already do." Her voice quavered, "Dason, her condition, she can't feel pain, she could bleed out at any minute and she wouldn't even notice it- please tell me you'll keep her safe... I can't lose her. Not-" Her voice cracked, and her eyes were brimming with tears now, and her deep breaths warmed my face as she stared at me.
I paused, startled by the sudden mood change of the conversation. "Tula, I promise you that I will do anything and everything to keep our children safe. Understand? Nothing bad will happen to them." I lifted her chin with my thumb. "And that's a promise, and I never break my promises, now do I?"
She laughed, looking away. A gentle, heart wrenching laugh that included a mixture of sad cry and a quiet chuckle.
I pulled her into another hug as she sniffled, wetting my shirt with her tears.
"Well," Tula smiled. "There was that one time-"
"Okay, OKAY! Let me rephrase that sentence: I never break important promises."
She poked my chest. "Who's to determine what promises are important and what's not?"
I huffed. "You, Tula Salvator, know how to get on my nerves."
"You know you love me."
"Yes I do." I kissed her cheek. "And I'm also tired, so let's finish up our chores and hit the hay"