Dene was waiting on the docks when Galen and the rest of the crew was dismissed on leave. He leaned against the side of one of the warehouses, arms crossed loosely, jacket unbuttoned, easy in the way all sailors were on the wooden gangplanks at the edge of the open ocean. Galen smiled when he saw him. Pushing past some of his mates, he ran to meet him. Dene stepped away from the warehouse and clapped him hard on the back.
“Good to see you,” Dene said.
“Good to be back,” Galen said. “On your way to work?”
“Your sister sent me down,” Dene said, shaking his head. “She didn’t want you t’get lost.”
Galen laughed. “She knows I’m not a kid anymore, right? I know how to get to the house.”
Dene hesitated. “We’re not at the old house anymore.”
“What?” Galen pulled back to look at him.
Dene glanced at the crowd milling down the docks. “Sorry, man. Deidei passed. Without her here to keep the house year-round, Tarra didn’t think it made sense t’keep it. Not with all of us comin’ and goin’.”
Galen blinked and glanced down. “Sure.”
“Sorry,” Dene said again.
Galen waved it away. “It’s all right. She had enough years. I knew it was coming.”
“You seen her lately?” Dene asked.
Shaking his head, Galen shoved his hands in his pockets. “Uh, five, six months ago. We haven’t been gone long.”
Dene nodded, taking the hint that he didn’t want anything else said just now.
“So, where are you taking me?” Galen asked.
“My Da’s,” Dene told him. “He’s got the extra room. Happy enough to have me back under the roof, he doesn’t care that I’m bringing in strays.” He tapped Galen’s shoulder, joking. “And Tarra…” Dene smiled, despite himself. “She’s on top of the world, knowing you’re here too. It’s been too long since you were both in port. You ready to go?”
Galen looked back at him, surprised. “Uh… not quite.” His stomach tightened for an instant before he could clear it with a breath. And he hated the feeling.
Turning back for the ship, Galen waved for Dene to follow him. Most of the crew had already disappeared into the city, but there were was still enough of a crowd to hide Jaera holding close to the ship. She had shot up two inches in the last year, but was still two head’s shorter than the muscled sailors around her. She smiled when she saw Galen approaching, then looked curiously at Dene. Galen nodded, just to let her know everything was fine. Then he looked back to catch Dene’s expression, not sure whether to expect surprise or not. It sounded like he’d forgotten the kid.
If Dene was caught off gaurd, he hid it well. “Hey,” he said, stopping in front of her with a smile.
“Hey,” she returned. And neither of them seemed to think anything more was necessary.
“Now you’re ready,” Dene told Galen, with a sideways smile.
“Let’s go,” Galen said. He planted a hand on Jaera’s shoulder and pushed her in front of him, letting Dene lead the way.
The new place wasn’t far from the old. It was two streets over and a full block to the north, but it had the same lean look with two straight walls that seemed to be holding their breath to keep from touching the neighbors on either side. The second floor windows were square and looked too big for the rooms, while the first floor was measured in four long windows on either side of the front door. There were curtains and glass in every one, and the siding looked freshly scrubbed. There were flowers in the window boxes, and sanded flagstones in a pretty front walk. It was nicer than the old place. Galen stood in front of it and wanted it to feel nice too, but it felt like looking at the face of a pretty stranger who looked too much like a relative of his.
“Would you do me a favor?” Galen asked.
Dene was halfway to the walk, but stopped at the tone of his voice.
“Just stay out here with her for a minute?”
Dene looked at Jaera. He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Thanks.” Galen squeezed Jaera’s shoulder. She nodded, expression straightened out in greater understanding than he would have liked. Galen didn’t take his hand away until he was too far away to reach her, then strode up the walk and knocked on the door.
“Come in!” his sister shouted. So he opened the door.
Tarra was curled up in a fat chair on the other side of the room, blanket wrapped around her shoulders, feet bare, and knees poking out of a pair of ripped breaches. Grinning as soon as she saw him, she dropped the book in her lap, jumped up, tackled him a hug so fierce he dropped his bag. He wrapped his arms around her ribs, happily squeezing back.
“You’re here,” she whispered. She pulled back enough to look up at him and pretend to glare. “Little brother.” She couldn’t squash her grin long enough to carry the joke properly, and hugged him again. “Welcome home.”
“It looks like a good place,” he said. He surveyed the room over her shoulder, even while she still had his neck in a lock-grip. It was as clean as the outside, pretty enough to look cared for, simple enough to fit the two of them.
“It’s a good surprise?” Tarra asked.
Galen hesitated. “It’s a surprise,” he managed.
She let out a quick breath. “I know. I’m sorry. I couldn’t figure out a better way t’tell about Deidei. Or the house. I figured it was better face t’face, better if you just came and saw and–”
“You could have warned me,” Galen said.
Tarra blinked and pulled back again. “Wait… are you mad at me? For sendin’ Dene instead of comin’ myself? I’ve been workin’ all mornin’ long, and I just got a breath–”
“I don’t mind you sendin’ your boyfriend, Tarra,” Galen said.
“Good,” Tarra said. She teetered on her feet, like a thought had just popped up that she knew she shouldn’t say, but she wanted to. Galen held his tongue long enough for her impulse to win. “I don’t think he’s gonna be my boyfriend much longer.”
Galen’s eyebrows came down in concern, but she was grinning.
“I mean…” Tarra almost laughed. “I think he’s workin’ out his proposal right now. And I’ve got my yes all at the ready.”
Galen forced himself not to shut his eyes and not to clench his jaw. It was good news, just so backward to what was inside his own head right then. “Congratulations, Tar,” he murmured. He forced himself to let out a smile.
“Thanks.” Tarra looked like she couldn’t quite hold onto her breath. Suddenly, she grabbed his hand, shaking away some of her silliness. “Come on. I shoulda let you get settled at least.”
Galen dug in his heels, carefully dragging her back to a stop.
She glanced back at him, surprised.
“I can’t stay here,” Galen said quietly.
“Sure you can,” Tarra said. “There’s more’n enough room for one more.”
Galen looked down. “Yeah. But I don’t bring just one more, do I?”
Tarra stared. Moving past him, she looked out the front door. Her expression flattened as soon as she saw Jaera waiting next to Dene. Galen was just grateful that Jaera had turned her back to the house, so she didn’t have to see the look.
“You still have her,” Tarra said quietly.
“Yeah,” Galen said. “Well, she’s eight now. She can walk, and talk, and think, and chase me down. I think I’ve lost my opportunity to accidentally lose her.”
“I thought you had handed her off to someone who knew what to do with her,” Tarra said.
“Yes, and no,” Galen said.
“She’s not yours,” Tarra said.
Galen shrugged. “She mostly is.”
Tarra held still before she asked her next question. “She still dangerous?”
Sighing, Galen collected his bag off the floor and slung it over his shoulder again. He stepped carefully around Tarra and stopped in the doorway. “Like I said,” he murmured. “You don’t have room for her. And I wish you’d warned me.”
“Galen…” she said as he took his first step out the door.
He looked back and smiled. “I’m not mad, Tar. I like my life, and I can see you like yours. Just turns out they don’t fit under the same roof.” He shifted, turning back to look at her. “I’ll be back around for dinner. Just gotta go find a place for us.”