Alea stands perfectly still in the middle of the yard. I watched her measure it out a moment ago, looking forward and back, over each shoulder, and shuffling in the grass to place as much distance between herself and each of the stone walls. Then she shuffled a little farther from the house, a little farther from me sitting on the back steps, to give herself all the space she needed.
Now, she’s perfectly still, and I’m shuffling in my seat. Arms crossed over my knees, I shift my fingers, turn my heel until my ankle stops complaining about this silence, scuff my toes in the dirt, bury my chin and watch her over my wrists.
When she raises her hand into the air, palm out in front of her chest, I hold my breath. But she goes still again.
This is the restraint that Momma keeps telling me to mimic. This is patience. This is careful. But all I feel is wait for it.
Lee didn’t have the patience for fruit. He squeezed the juice out every morning, ground the flesh into pulp and swallowed it down. He tossed it back and grinned at the world as he gathered himself to step out the front door for the day, invading while it was still dark.
Tema always watched him, hip leaned against the kitchen counter, as she peeled her orange into its pieces and slid them one by one into her mouth. She had never finished more than three or four slices before he was banging out the door, and she twisted to watch him go, amused, perplexed.
“Where is your human?” William asked.
Clarissa shot him a look as she reached the top of the hill, making it clear that she had noticed his lack of greeting, but she said nothing. She let the look linger to further impress upon him that the word he should have used was “friend.” Everyone was trying to shake off the old phrasing and lose the quiet implications that humans were things they could own.
William blinked back at her, expression unchanged as he leaned against the side of a rock twice his height. Unmoving, and as square-shouldered as he was, he managed to make it look like he was supporting it instead of the other way around.
“She’s coming,” Clarissa said. She held in a sigh. She hated it when her best glares didn’t even leave a scratch. “I know there’s no real argument about who is faster – our kind or theirs – but it turns out, when you wake a human up at midnight and ask her to hike a mountain, the answer is quite definitive.”
Mom taught Shae to play the piano when she was seven and her short fingers were the only thing that got in her way. Sitting still, she watched the white and black keys and everything she saw on them was painted in the same distinct colors. She heard the way notes fit together, and if her pulse wasn’t her own perfect metronome, she faked it well enough to fool even herself.
She mimicked Mom until she didn’t have to anymore. Then she played as if she had never learned, but always known. One hand pulled out melody, the other harmony, like white rabbits from a hat. When her timing stumbled, she just muttered about wanting to stretch her fingers and kept going.
When I was five, I pulled Mom to the piano, grinning, jumping up and down on the end of her arm because of what I figured I had stolen, spying over Shae’s shoulder. I played for her with one hand, half the right notes with all the wrong timing in between.
“Ta-da!” I shouted at the end, with my hands over my head, and she grinned back at me.
“Did I do it right?” I asked.
It had been months since Karleigh last saw her uncle, Toar. There had been a creeping thought in the back of her mind that at this length in his silence, she would hear from him soon. She had started looking into his favorite lodgings, sorting out the servants’ work loads so they would be ready to split when he arrived, and giving her own rooms their needed deep spring cleaning.
Still, she had expected a letter before she turned a corner and found him standing in the wide shining entrance hall of the Clan Lord’s palace.
He smiled when he saw her, and she realized that she was smiling too, just a little too wide. She tamed her expression slightly, and turned toward him.
“I don’t like clocks,” Grandmama said. She narrowed her eyes at the blind, ticking face in the corner. Nestled in its tall dark wood housing, it ignored her, too focused on its rhythm to care about the staccato sentences in the room around it. “They’re noisome.”
Elianna turned the next page of her book. “They’re exact,” she said, settled into the crook of her chair. “We need that now.”
“When I was a little girl, there was a man down the street who sold tall candles, broken into the hours. You lit them when you woke, and every hour they’d pop and flash green,” Grandmama said.