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“Come into my kitchen, James,” Elizabeth hissed, covered in flour from head to toe, turning to her youngest son, guarding her oven, “I dare you.”
Rebecca and Zane winced, James turned puppy blue eyes on his mother.
But Elizabeth was ruthless when it came to her baking. And James had a tendency to cause accidents. Mostly with fire.
“Zane and Rebecca are allowed to be in here,” He complained.
Rebecca had one leg curled underneath her, sitting on the island, Zane was sitting on the countertop right next to the pastry, the furthest counter away from the door, and she thought, by that alone, he was doing it purposefully, knowing James would never get that far into the kitchen.
Elizabeth stepped closer to her oven, unrelenting, “They haven’t set anything on fire this week,” She answered, picking up a mixing bowl and stirring vigorously.
“That was an accident!” James sputtered, then when three pairs of questioning eyes turned to him, he flushed.
Rebecca turned to Zane, Zane turned to her. They both shook their heads, neither of them had been the casualty, then.
“What,” Elizabeth said slowly, “Did you, do, James?”
“Dads calling me,” James says quickly, turning around.
Zane doesn’t quite catch his laugh, but stifles it when Elizabeth turns glaring eyes on him. Their mother would defend them with her life, but that life was so very much hers to take if she felt like it.
Zane doesn’t stay long after that, he’d only come to torment James, after all. And went looking for him after a few minutes. Rebecca stays on the island, though, till the sun had turned burnt orange in the sky, and the owl came to sit on the ledge of the kitchen window.
Rebecca turned to the snow white bird, “It’ll rain tonight,” Rebecca says conversationally. Elizabeth hums.
“Probably a storm,” Rebecca presses.
It had rained almost the whole day.
“It’ll be cold in the barn,” She carries on, trying to see her mother’s expression.
Elizabeth knelt to the oven, pulling out the pepper steak pie.
“And do you want to bring the horses into the house as well?” Elizabeth asked her daughter, settling the dish on the windowsill, she offers leftover pieces of meat to the owl, who sniffs, then turns away.
“Just Castings,” Rebecca says, watching the owl, “The horses will be warm.”
“If its warm enough for the horses, its warm enough for the owl,” Elizabeth says, but she’ll give in, she always did.
“But he’ll be lonely,” The bird lifts lightly off the windowsill, and into the kitchen.
Elizabeth turns to her daughter, the owl settling down at her side.
“One night,” Elizabeth warns, “James, I swear,” She doesn’t turn around.
James stops dead in his tracks at the door. “Its out of the oven!”
“Its dinner,” Elizabeth answered, still not turning to him, “Not whatever you call this meal of yours between tea and dinner.”
“Please, mom, I’m starving,” James implores, walking further into the kitchen. Elizabeth is less territorial now that her pie is through the danger.
James comes closer to the oven, and Rebecca, her fingers threading through soft feathers, lift her head to her brother, and chaos unfolds slowly.
And somehow, she knows there will be a fire.
Rebecca’s almost asleep, when her bedroom door opens, and James follows the soft passage light in.
“You asleep?” He mumbles, like he had been a minute ago.
She was about to, but, sitting up, she shakes it off quickly. They have a treaty ten years standing.
“This house’s too big,” He mumbles, climbing into her bed, “I had to walk so far to get here.”
His room wasn’t so far from hers, she was on the west side, away from the street, further to the back of the house, so near to their stables she could hear the horses at night from her window, if she left it open. Zane was on the almost other side of the house, he could see the street lights from his window, even if he couldn’t hear the sound of passing cars, not that anything passed by them, this far out of the city, so close into Oakhurst Woods. James couldn’t hear the horses, or see the lights, caught between the two of them, his room was almost right at the landing, where the sweeping staircase stopped at the first floor.
And she thinks he’s always like that, caught between the two of them.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” He mumbles into her pillow, settling down so close to her she could hear his breathing, blonde hair fanning around him on her pillow. His hair and hers were so polar opposite in colour, it was shocking how alike it was in nature. Both uncontrollable. His stood straight in different directions, hers in wild curls.
“You’re scared,” She answers him, like he would have answered her, if she’d been confused and he hadn’t. “Dad is too. You’re both of you, scared, and you don’t know what to do,”
“He thinks,” James mutters, then reconsiders, “I’m sorry,” He tells her, wrapping an arm around her half-heartedly, his words slurring.
“Don’t get comfortable,” She warns him. “You sleep in here and Zane will have my head in the morning.”
“You just want the bed to yourself,” He calls her almost immediately. “You’re selfish.”
“Very much so,” She acknowledges without argument.
“We could all three fit on here,” James mumbles again, “Still have so much space.”
“No,” She insisted, shoving James in the shoulder, if he fell asleep here she would fare need a dragon’s roar to wake him, and she would never manage to carry him by herself.
“James,” She threatened, leaning over him, “If you’re sleeping, you’re done talking.”
“Selfish,” James muttered, but pushed himself up anyway, leaning against her headboard. He rolled his shoulders back, stretching his white, threadbare shirt.
“You need a new shirt,” Rebecca frowned. “You have new shirts, Mom put new ones in your closet Sunday.”
Elizabeth had their clothing choices down to a science.
“This one’s comfortable,” He shrugs, pulling his legs up to his chest. He looks, not smaller, but, unsure.
“James?” Rebecca asks.
“Don’t you ever want to leave?” He murmurs, and his eyes widen a little bit, and he asks like he’s asked something irreverent. “Just, leave, you know. Away from, all of this?”
All of this.
The mother that had taken her in when she had nowhere else to go. The father that had taught her to hunt, then to argue law. The grandfather that gave her a car for James’s birthday but only if it was vintage and had a stick shift. The aunt that decided she must have the same birthday as her own daughter. A cousin that dragged her with to every ballet class, painting lesson and through the outcrop of trees that could lead them further to Oakhurst Woods.
These strangers that made her theirs.
She bites her bottom lip, because she understands what he wants. Hawthorne House was built on lands spanning over a hundred acres, the House itself a fifty thousand square feet, and she knew he felt all of that in how much he had to prove he belonged in it, but she so wholly knows, she will never want what he does. She doesn’t want to tell him that, but he turns from her. As if he’d heard her anyway.
“James,” She stills him, a hand on his arm to stop him from leaving. “That’s not fair, if you left, Zane would follow you, you would have Zane with you always, you would have all of you with you, you would be whole. If I left,” She shakes her head, “I would be leaving broken.”
James is quiet, and she thinks he’s drawing parallels. A decade ago she’d climbed into his bedroom broken, and became whole. He, she thought, had come to hers, broken, trying to become whole, too, and she couldn’t answer him. But her whole world had been to be a part of his. His whole, would be leaving.
“Dad told me to take another year,” James says finally, “To decide, be sure what I want. I am sure,” He stresses, “I was sure last year. It’s December, there’s still so much left of this year, he’s being,” James stops himself. “He’s not being impossible,” He sighs.
“He’s being our dad,” She tells him. “He’s scared he’s going to lose you.”
“He won’t,” James murmurs, like he knows how useless it is to keep repeating it, like he’d been for six month already. “How could he ever lose me?”
He’s staring at the mirror on the other wall, facing it almost directly, looking at himself and seeing his father. Rebecca looks at the mirror, too, but she can’t see what he does. She looks at herself, and if she sees any likeness between her and her mother, she’s elated, her heart beats faster, hoping every wish of hers is true. James looks at himself and sees a burden, she sees a prayer half answered.
James turns from the mirror, settles down, and pulls her duvet over himself. “I’m sleeping here,” He murmurs into her pillows, and she starts to object. “Or I won’t sleep tonight, and it’ll be your fault, and then tomorrow will be hell for all of us.”
Rebecca stares down at her brother. Zane would never not follow James, James would never leave him. And it wasn’t that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t. It would be like cutting himself in half and leaving it behind, it was impossible.
But leaving her. It wasn’t impossible. For all that they followed one train of thought, James could leave her here. He just didn’t want to. And she didn’t want to let him go alone, but she could.
And she wondered, which of them would give first.
Rebecca frowns at the blackmail. “Go and sleep with Zane,” She’s almost sure that’s where he came from.
“Other side of the house, too far,” He mumbles, that was where he’d come from. “And,” Its not the distance that keeps him from going back. “I can’t, talk to him. And, I don’t,” Want him to see me. She fills in the blanks for him. James never wants Zane to see him broken, and it isn’t his pity he’s afraid of, its Zane’s bravery he struggles to match.
So she settles down next to him. And she would throw him out, his fear and his weakness, but they have a treaty ten years standing.