Deidei answered the door as soon as she heard the knock – his knock, the five sing-song raps he’d learned and borrowed from his father – and smiled before she’d pulled the door open.
He’d gotten taller while he was away. She expected that of a fifteen year old boy, but was still surprised when she had to turn her head up to look at him. Her smile broadened, almost to a laugh as she saw how he filled the doorway, curly blonde hair tangled with salt and breeze, shoulders too wide. He’d stretched, the way all sailor boys always did, from hanging so long in the rigging, built broad shoulders and callused hands from hauling sail.
“Look at you, Galen,” Deidei murmured. “I think you’re taller than your Da, now.”
“Hey, Deidei,” he said. He ducked his head to look inside. “Still room for me?”
“You’re not that tall,” Deidei told him with a dry look. But he had to keep his head tucked to come inside.
Galen had his ruck hung over his shoulder, held to his chest to keep it out of his way, a smaller bag swinging from his hand, and some other bag strapped to his back by a broad cloth strap. He set his ruck on the floor, and the smaller bag beside it, kicking them both as close to the wall as he could with his heels. “Not what I meant,” he said. “Have you filled this place up yet?”
“This is your home.”
“This was home. Then I left.” Galen shrugged. “An’ Tarra left. And she gave you the keys. That was four years ago, and it’s been two since ya saw me. I figure, sometimes, things change.”
“They haven’t,” Deidei assured him, with another look so dry it might have been a glare if she could just keep herself from smiling at the boyish face.
Galen nodded, then grinned. “But please, tell me it’s not just you here, keepin’ it warm for me an’ Tarra.”
“It’s not,” Deidei said.
“So, who else is here?”
“Right now?” Deidei asked.
“Ever,” Galen said.
“I have eight of you,” she said. “My sailors. But right now, it’s only Lyall and Moriah. They’re around, but you might not see ’em still until there’s food in front of ’em.”
“So, there is room for me,” Galen said.
She shook her head at him. “Yes, boy, I have room for you. Now put your things down before I kick you out.”
His eyebrows dashed comically high. He pulled his shoulders up into a shrug while simultaneously pointing both open hands helplessly at the bags at his feet. “I did!”
She pointed to his chest and the broad strap pinning his jacket to his body.
“Oh, she’s asleep right now,” he said, laughing. Shaking his head, he raised his hands innocently. “I don’t wanna move her.”
Deidei stopped exactly where she was and stared at him. “She?” she demanded.
Galen froze too. He blinked, fast, maybe hearing what he’d said and knowing he hadn’t intended to order the words that way. “I brought home a girl?” he said quietly, apologetically.
Deidei grabbed him by the elbow, half to spin him around and half to keep him still so she could walk around to his back. The bundle on his back breathed. One small pink hand was locked around the extra folds in the back of his jacket and the other was just visible past the roundness of a cheek. Dark hair dusted her head, combed smooth, but curling at the ends.
Turning his head, Galen looked at Deidei over his shoulder. “She’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. Has a laugh like a sunbeam. Wraps her arms around you like nothin’ else in the world exists. And I think she loves me.”
“Galen,” Deidei said.
“And she sleeps like a cat,” Galen said. “Heavy and happy. Wakes up like a bear, if she’s not ready.”
“How old is she?”
He twisted farther, as if he could catch a glance at the baby. “About a year. We figure.”
“Galen, your momma would…”
He turned, just enough to look her in the eye. His expression had straightened in an instant. “She’d be proud that her boy was takin’ care of a kid that wasn’t even his.”
Deidei paused. “Oh.” She looked at the baby again. “You found her?”
Galen nodded. “Cap’n told me I was too old to be findin’ a kid and bringin’ her home like a penny in m’pocket.”
Deidei smiled. “Is that what you did?”
“Yeah,” he laughed softly. Then he looked at her sheepishly. “Next day he said I was too young for it. Then too old for it. Then… he hasn’t made up his mind since.”
“Where did you find her?” she asked. She touched the baby’s cheek, gently, worn fingers against her soft skin.
“On a sand dollar under a blanket of seafoam,” Galen said.
“Really. Where?” Deidei asked.
Galen met her eyes, mouth straight, face flat again. His eyes were harder than she’d realized before, fiercer than she remembered the boy’s being two years ago. “Doesn’t matter,” he murmured. “That’s a secret for me and her. Nobody else needs to know.”
It had been a bad place, Deidei realized. Bad enough that it didn’t need talk to turn it awful, but with enough gossip it might become hell. And he wasn’t going to let that happen. Slowly, she pulled her hand away from his back.
Galen gave her a small smile. “But… if you must know, she was actually under the curl of a wave, floatin’ on rainbow strings.”
Deidei smiled back, a little at first, then wider on the breath of a laugh. “You’ve gotten very tall,” she said.