She started to stir just as I got to the meeting place outside the general store. The new family was a young couple that owned a farm on the other side of town. He was from the Borderlands, she used to be a Puritan pleb that had been sterilized. I was touched by the fact that he saw her as more than what she can pass on for him. At one point in my life, that was all I had wanted. Thankfully, they had come prepared and was able to feed her straight away.
“Be well, be happy.” I kissed her soft head and handed her over to them, walking away without looking back again.
I left them outside as I headed inside the store to buy some supplies that I knew we were running low on at home. I made quick work of selecting the few items that I needed. Placing them on the counter, I waited patiently for Kalea, the cashier, to notice me and look up from her book. It didn’t take long before her slightly upturned pale, green eyes flipped up to me, lighting up with recognition. She was a similar height, with the long, black hair and warm honey skin tone a few shades darker than my own, and high cheek bones that was common in the Borderlands. A wide smile revealed straight white teeth as she got up to greet me.
“I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow.” She came around the counter, taking in my expression, she embraced me. “Another one?”
“Yeah,” I returned her embrace. “I’ll be okay though.”,
“It’s okay if you’re not.” She offered a gentle smile.
“Thanks,” I smiled back, then turned to the back of the store. “I didn’t see Nakoa back there.”
“He’s at the house helping to finish setting everything up for tomorrow.” She went back around counter, accepting my bag to load my things into as she scanned them. Pointedly not looking at me as she said “Kagan is there too.”
“Being your brother, I’d expect him to be there.” I handed over money, watching as she tried to suppress a smile.
“I’m sure he’d appreciate you stopping by to say hi,” she finally looked up as she handed me my change.
“And I’m sure I’ll see him tomorrow at your wedding.” She rolled her eyes at me.
I heard the door behind me open, and all the amusement drained from her face as she took in who was behind me. I peeked over my shoulder, seeing two CGP officers had come inside. They paid us no mind as they moved about the store. I looked to Kalea, understanding in her eyes. No one knew exactly who I was, only that I’d left the Puritans, much like many of the people in the Borderlands, and that I had been wanted. But I knew that they wouldn’t take kindly to knowing that I was a patrician, daughter to a council member who ordered the mistreatment of many of their now citizens. I can’t imagine that they’d treat me with any leniency.
“They’ve been coming into town more and more lately.” I leaned in to whisper to her.
“They say they are trying to keep the peace, that there has been more and more unrest, rebel attacks on their shipments moving through the Borderlands.” She made no effort to hide her skepticism.
“Do you want me to stay?” I offered, even though fear had gripped my heart.
“No,” she lowered her voice even more, grasping my hand. “I don’t want them to recognize you. Just go, and be careful.”
“Thank you,” I mouthed and slipped out the door.
And stepped right into Kagan. He grasped my arms, righting me to keep me from falling back. Laughter glinted in his green eyes, the same eyes that Kalea had. They looked so much alike in a lot of ways, the upturned green eyes, high cheek bones, coloring. I suppose that was common with twins though. But where she was my height, delicate boned, he was tall, broad shouldered, and square jawed. I cleared my throat as I realized that I had been gripping his muscular biceps. I quickly straightened, smoothing my dress. He drug his fingers through his long hair, hair so black that it shone blue in some places in the sunlight.
“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to mow you down.” He gave me a crooked smile, one that often made me feel like he was mocking me. I never saw him smile like that at anyone else though.
“I was just leaving,” I looked pointedly at the black SUV that belonged to the CGPO. He glanced over at them, his posture becoming more rigid, the muscle in his jaw twitching as he bit down hard.
“I’ll walk you,” he turned, holding an arm out towards the steps.
“I appreciate it, but I’ll be okay.” I skirted him, walking down the steps “I’m sure you’re busy setting up for your sister.”
“We’re actually done. And I’d rather make sure you get home safely,” he raised his eyebrows at the SUV parked at the end of the building.
I chewed on my lip, having company did make it easier to hide your face.
“Fine.” I sighed, immediately regretting it as he smiled broadly at me, quickly descending the stairs. I turned and started in the direction of home before he reached me, causing him to jog to catch up.
“I promise I’ll behave.” He offered me his elbow.
“I don’t think you know what that means.” He laughed and I slipped my arm through his fighting my own smile.
“You coming tomorrow?” I could feel his eyes on me as I studied the ground in front of my feet.
“Of course. Kalea is my best friend. And she asked me to stand with her.”
“I didn’t know that,” he admitted, surprise in his voice. “I guess that makes sense. I think you’re the first girl she’s ever been friends with.”
That made me smile. Kalea may have been slight, but she was fierce, deceptively so. In the few years I’d known them, she was always trying to show up the boys in the town, whether it was climbing trees, buildings, working in the fields with Nakoa and Kagan, riding horses, she was a force to be reckoned with. Everyone loved her, which had made the other girls in town icy towards her, not that it mattered much to her. She had no time for “girly pursuits” she called them. Besides that, Kalea had never had eyes for anyone but Nakoa, even if he didn’t know it at first. I was there the day she decided she was done waiting. She grabbed him by the collar, and kissed him. And now they were getting married. I couldn’t be happier for them.
“I saw you dropping off a baby.” I murmured an acknowledgment, feeling him peering down at me again. “You okay?”
“You and Kalea both,” I started, shaking my head. “I’m fine.”
“Nothing wrong with checking on you.” He chuckled.
“I’m not going to break, you know.” I gave him a sidelong glance.
“I don’t think you will.” I nodded at that.
We walked in silence for a while. Kagan was the one that pulled me from the car I had been trapped in with Jasper, and carried me to Grandmother’s place. I vaguely remember that she had been in her garden when he’d stormed passed into her house to deposit me on her couch. I knew that him being overly attentive with asking about my wellbeing and walking me home, was out of a misplaced sense of responsibility for me. He had saved me, had thrust me into someone else’s life. So now he felt like he needed to take care of me in some ways. Kalea took that as to mean he cared for me on a much deeper level than he did. Whenever we were alone together, it was always the same. We exchange tense pleasantries, and then spend the rest of the time in awkward silence. Kagan wasn’t shy, but he was quiet by nature. What little he did speak would grind to a halt any time I entered any kind of conversation, even when there was a group of people around. More than anything, it led me to believe that he didn’t like me more than the respect he had for me because I was his sister’s friend.
“I think I’ll be okay the rest of the way so you can get back to your sister.” I pulled my arm from his. Grandmother’s cottage wasn’t more than half a mile from town, mostly trees obscured it from view. We couldn’t have been more than 20 feet from where the path into the garden started. The cottage was just off the road that cut through the end of the woods to the towns that rested on the other side.
“Do you want me to come pick you up tomorrow for the ceremony?” he was half turned away already.
“No,” I started to turn away as well. “Grandmother will be with me, so I won’t be alone.”
“Hey,” he called after me. I turned back. He made rare eye contact. There was an intensity in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Elodie.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Kagan.” I echoed. The exchange was getting more and more awkward by the second. But he just nodded before turning and jogging off.
I couldn’t help but shake my head, chuckling at his odd behavior. Coming around the curve in the road, I saw that Grandmother was in her garden, hoeing out weeds. But she had stopped in the midst of her work, leaning on the tool. She probably heard the whole exchange, judging by the amusement on her face.
“Kalea still trying to pawn that brother of hers off on you?” she asked.
“Yeah. But he was just really weird too.” I went inside and put my bag on the table, before coming back out, grabbing a second hoe to help. “I see the girl is gone. How was that?”
“About as good as can be expected, I suppose.” She watched me for a moment, then went back to her task.
“There were officers in town again. That’s why Kagan walked me home.”
“Do you really think they are still looking for you, after all this time?” the scrape of her hoe pausing briefly.
“I think that I’d rather be safe than sorry.” I chewed the corner of my lip. I was being intentionally vague. I knew that my mother was never going to completely let me go. But I wasn’t about to admit that. I still wasn’t sure how much exactly Grandmother new about me, or suspected at the very least.
“Alright, I got this. You can go start with the washing.” She shooed me away.
I smiled as I went to replace my tool and head inside to gather all the soiled linens used this morning. Grandmother loved to have time alone working in her garden. I had learned that from her. Sometimes, your soul just needed to be among quiet and growing things. I would never begrudge her that.