It took Alasdair a long time to realize Jig wasn’t her real name. Parents had handed out stranger names, and she answered to it every time, without hesitation. Sometimes she even turned at similar words – jib, jug, jog – the way people do when they’ve answered to the sound all their lives.
But overhearing the men at early market describe her – the little girl, only so tall, with the dark hair, who moved too fast, settled too fast, and smiled too fast – he knew they were looking for her. They avoided giving her name. They knew her, but they didn’t know what she was calling herself now. Alasdair finished his business, and left market quickly, before they could stop him to ask if he’d seen her.
That night, Jig was at Alasdair’s back porch, perched on the edge of it, with her feet dangling into the air, eating her dinner clasped in both hands. She had some sort of bread, stuffed up with meat and sauce that ran down her fingers. It was still warm. He could smell the sweetness of it as he sat down next to her.
“Did you buy that?” he asked, leaning forward on his knees.
“Yep,” Jig said. She looked proud of herself.
“Where did you get the money?” he asked. He’d always doubted that she wasn’t the kind of kid who begged for her food, and the look of the men that morning hadn’t eased his suspicions.
“I made a trade,” she said, easy, the same way she answered to her name. “With a guy down the street. I heard he was looking for somethin’, and I found it, and he traded me silver for it.” She looked at him, for a long moment over her food, face blank, eyes serious. He’d learned to read the look over the last months: gentle admittance that she was giving him truths in pretty packages they didn’t quite belong in, and it was time for him to stop asking questions.
Alasdair looked away and nodded. She’d said more than she had to. Made more sense than she had to. She had a habit of running away with a sentence, and a talent for dropping the end of it a mile from the beginning, grinning.
“Do you visit other people like this?” he asked.
“A couple,” Jig said. “A lady northside has a dog big enough for me to ride. There’s a guy southside with a pet duck. And there’s two brothers who play music at midnight.”
Alasdair listened to the list, with a growing smile, wondering what he had that had sparked her interest. “Are they good friends?” he asked.
Jig looked up at him, eyebrows crinkled together like he’d said something strange. “Sure,” she said.
“If you were in trouble, they would help?” he asked.
She lowered her dinner into her lap and examined his face seriously. “Am I in trouble, Alasdair?”
“There’s someone looking for you,” he told her.
She nodded solemnly. “Yup.”
Alasdair raised his eyebrows, surprised.
“That’s not trouble unless they find me,” she said. “Where did you see them?”
Alasdair blinked. “Market.”
Jig wrinkled her nose. “I should leave tonight.”
“You’ve done this before,” Alasdair said.
Jig nodded. “Twice.”
“Your name isn’t Jig.”
She leaned back as she turned toward him, eyebrows raised, like she couldn’t believe that he needed to ask. “Nope,” she said. “And it’s not Issi either, but that’s what they called me a few months ago.” Jumping down from the porch, she spun around. She gave him a rough salute with her empty hand, an inelegant curtsey, then a grin.
“Keep your ears on your head and your toes on your feet!” she said. It sounded like Good luck with life in general.
And she ran for the gate.
For the first time, she didn’t skid to a stop and look back. For a moment, he wasn’t even sure that he had gotten the word out. There was no hesitation in her step. Her body stayed in a straight line as she barreled out of his yard.
“Hey!” Alasdair called.
With one hand on the gate, she looked back at him. She smiled and shook her head.
Not Jig anymore. Not that she’d ever been.
Alasdair smiled and shook his head. “Keep safe,” he told her.
Another salute, another grin, and she disappeared.
My little sister is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece and wrote a fun story of her own. Check it out on her blog later today.