Tarra took her jacket off as soon as she stepped through the door. Outside, the spring night had barely warranted the extra layer. She’d slipped it on as she left the workshop only out of habit. Inside the Hatchman, it was usually warm, but tonight the double ovens spilled heat from the kitchen and the usual crowd wove lightly through the room like sparks in the updraft of the flame. They laughed and talked and ate and drank and slid around each other as they moved toward friends, carried food back form the bar, or just sat trying to keep out of the way.
As usual, it was easy to spot the Captains. They were the only ones who kept their coats on in this heat, and even half of them had caved and hung them on the chair backs, shoulders squared, still showing off the yellow stripes. Some of them sat with their Mates. Others had brought lower officers, lieutenants or keimon. A few sat by themselves. They all had the same comfortable way of looking around the room as if they were waiting for something, and barely knew what.
Tarra knotted her jacket into one hand and moved toward the bar on the right side of the room. There was already a mug of cider waiting for her when she reached it, fresh and full to the brim. Tarra looked around for Rachlyn,wondering how she’s seen her come in through this crowd. The woman was pouring drinks at the other end of the bar, laughing at something one of the patrons had said and spinning to catch and fill the next mug. Tarra took a sip of her cider and waited.
It was only a minute before Rachlyn came running down to her. “Hey, Tarra,” she said. She let her gaze stop on Tarra’s face for the space of a breath, giving her that efficient, friendly assessment she always did to make sure that Tarra was happy and healthy, then turned to rearranging something under the bar.
“Hey,” Tarra said.
“How’s your brother?” Rachlyn asked.
“He’s fine,” Tarra said. “Should be home already. Should be halfway through cooking dinner already, but we’ll see if he remembered he was supposed to do it.”
“Aw,” Rachlyn said. She gave Tarra a quick, sympathetic smile. “He’s too young for memory problems.”
Tarra smiled as she took another sip. “Maybe. Then again, Arnie across the street keeps calling him the little old man. He says he’s too serious, works too hard.”
“He’s just quiet,” Rachlyn said. “I’ve seen him smile enough. And both of you are too young to work the way you do.”
Tarra ducked her head. She took another drink, set the mug down carefully, perfectly inside the ring it had left on the bar, and she twisted to look over her shoulder at the rest of the bar. “Anything tonight?”
Rachlyn flicked a look around the tables, hands still busy with clinking cups and bottles. “There’s a lot of them looking for hands tonight. Captain Annise owns a hauler, works a landdweller run with a textile contract on the middle coast. She’s done good business for the last two years. A rocky year before that, if my Fel tells me right, then a good five years before that when Annise was just the Mate.”
“And you think they’d take on a cabin kid for a bit, if they could train him into a hand?” Tarra asked. She turned back to find Rachlyn smiling at her.
“No,” Rachlyn said. “They only take on women.”
Tarra laughed in surprise. “Well, that won’t do for my brother.”
Rachlyn shook her head, still smiling. “I wasn’t thinking of him.”
Tarra swallowed her smile carefully, holding it back. “My brother should get off the island first.”
“It’s a good ship,” Rachlyn said.
“I’m sure,” Tarra said.
Rachlyn looked at her for a steady moment – maybe stiller than she usually was, maybe just too far out of Tarra’s sight for her to see clearly – and then she moved off again. Her heels thunked against the floor, thrumming under the hum of the room, and she greeted someone else, clinked through another set of bottles, poured someone else a mug.
Tarra pulled her mug into both hands. It taken her a little while to get used to the quickness of their conversations, to the easy way Rachlyn slid from one person to another. She was friendly enough, smiled wide enough, but she was the same bright-voiced, sharp-eyed friend to everyone here. She made her exchanges easily, and left them easily, more spark than the rest of them. And Tarra always felt herself treading water in her wake, left behind.
She’d been left behind too many times. By Da. And then by Momma, though she knew their leaving hadn’t been anyone’s choice but Luck’s. By the ship that should have been hers, and by the thousand ships afterward that might have been hers, because she needed to take care of everything they left behind. By friends, by days, and sometimes just moments.
Watching Rachlyn’s back, Tarra tried not to feel as if she should running off too. She tried to convince her skin that she had nowhere else to be, even though she had a thousand she could think of. She shut her eyes rather than allow herself to turn and scan the room. It didn’t matter what Captain was close, whether they wanted her or not.
Her brother would go first.
One more time, and that would be the last time she’d let anything leave her behind.