Monday, 4 February 2019

Chapter 27: Connections






Boyd: I told you.
Prescott:  You did.  But don’t count the chickens…
Boyd:  I’m not.  But come on, this could not be going any better.
Prescott: You’re sure she has no idea?
Boyd:  I’m sure.  I’m telling you, she’s not looking for THAT ulterior motive.

#

The weekend following Neith’s evening visit with Miles was of course one of protracted pain.  Usually, she savoured Ruthie and Davey’s extended presence at home, even finding something greater than quaintness in their worship rituals on the Sunday.  This weekend?  It stood as a hurdle between her and promised progress.

Monday, Neith was extra chipper in contributing around the household.  She even began humming one of Elle’s work tunes as she swept and wiped up after breakfast. 

Elle and Ruthie shared a suspicious squint.

“What was in that note then?” Elle probed.

Neith dwelt only on the good note; the second note. “News.”

“News about what?” Ruthie joined the interrogation.

“You’ll see,” Neith answered, “when I see you after school.”  She almost giggled with how loaded her promise was.  Ruthie would suppose Neith meant their gardening date. 

Ruthie dropped her satchel over her head, squeezed the three home-stayers, and made her way out the door.  Davey followed close behind, savaging a roll with his teeth.  He turned to deliver a salute before he halted, mischievous.  He then blew a kiss to Neith before bolting away at a sprint.

Shaking her head in amusement, Neith grabbed a towel from the rail in front of the hob and began drying the dishes from the morning meal.  The smell of the bread Davey had helped himself to thirds of – for the road – still filled the air.  Elle had been up early to activate the yeast.  Neith had joined her, asking questions, ready to embrace Monday.

“You heart-breaker,” Elle said, depositing another washed bowl face-down in front of Neith.  “Spawning crushes in your wake.”

What?  Neith had told Elle about her late night talk with Miles.  Had something in the way she’d spoken about it revealed her hopes?  That she’d felt a pull?  Did he feel a pull?  That’s what a crush was…

“He told me this morning, when I helped with his laces.  He intends to marry you.”  Once again, Neith could slap her own forehead for shame.  Just like Jamin hadn’t been talking about him, Elle wasn’t talking about Miles.  Elle was talking about Davey, the one requiring shoelace assistance.  The kiss-blower and miniature charmer.

“Do I have a say in the matter?”  Neith recovered to reply.

“You’ve heard him – he’s the boss around here.”  Elle deadpanned.  She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand, her fingertips frosted in suds.

“My parents will be so pleased!  To think, they gave up on me long ago.”

Elle’s dry humour was erased and replaced with concern.  “You and Jamin talked.   He told you…we’re talking about you maybe staying?”  Jamin had meant her.  Jamin wanted Neith to be patient.  He had not been talking of Nydia softening towards Phase 2.  He meant she could stay.  Indefinitely?

“I hoped that was what he meant.”  She wanted it.  She really did.  But she wanted to be able to beam back to the Cole’s and Whittaker’s homes for visits.

“After the council’s decision about the school it must seem like a distant possibility…but does the prospect really tempt you?”

“Elle, I don’t know how I could ever belong anywhere else now.”  She hadn’t felt like she belonged in Feichangbei to begin with.

Elle smiled then.  “So: could you imagine being happy here?  Maybe settling down…”  Did Elle believe that diversifying the genetic pool could start right here, with their first City guest?  No, with Elle it was more than that.  Elle wanted Neith’s happiness. 

“I’ve never met anyone who has made me think I could have what my parents have – here or anywhere.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Elle sang, waggling a finger.  She dried her hands.  Neith knew Elle left the sink full rather than draining it, to conserve water for various uses throughout the day.  “You told me once, you hope for love.  There must have been some moment, some time, that you thought, ‘He’s alright.’  There are a few single men around here – you must’ve seen some by now.  Have you thought there could be hope yet?  Ooo, what about when you went fishing?  Have you seen anyone you liked the look of?”

An image of Miles’ smile came into Neith’s mind, unbidden.  She couldn’t stop the blush that followed.

“Nee, you have! Don’t hold out on me!” 

Were they doing this now?  Neith was still an intruder here, with a fairly dire dilemma to resolve.  Were they matchmaking over dishes? 

Neith shrugged.  She felt Friday’s hidden string snap back into place, tugging her towards the schoolhouse.

“There!  Who did you think of?”  Elle had collapsed into the reading chair, putting her feet up onto the bench seat.  Amos had slid the crate from the back sink over so he could splash in the dishwater.  Neith put the last of the dry dishes away before stepping over the bench seat and sitting down. 

“Maybe once, I’ve thought ‘he’s alright.’  Okay, a handful of times.  But it still never gave me enough to picture a ‘happily ever after.’  My story doesn’t end that way.” 

Elle wore a look of irritation.  “I think you need to let your Prince Charming decide that.”

“Elle!” Neith pushed Elle’s feet off of the bench seat so that they came down onto some pillows by the unlit burner. 

“Hey!”  Elle drew them back up regally.  “Out with it.  Who is it?” 

Neith toyed with the idea of supplying Davey’s name as an answer, bidding Elle to write off the tête-à-tête as Neith’s usual diverting trickery.  My heart only belongs to The Boss, she could say.

But she didn’t.  She told her, “I may have thought Miles was alright…once or twice.” 

Elle inflated and sat high in the chair.  “Neith.  I…  Neith!”

“What?  What is it?”  Maybe she should have said Mr Flynn.

“Somewhere along the line, I’ve managed to leave out a few things.”

“Yes?”  Neith anticipated the laying down of more ground rules.  Her finally-felt, fateless attractions were only vicarious fodder so long as they were from without – not someone in Nydia.  Elle was the one who had asked.  Maybe she was only being polite.  Neith began to rehearse her retraction; It was only a small moment – a string thing – it was probably nothing. 

More lies.

Wait, did Elle want dibs?  That would be the worst – Neith finally felt an attraction to another human being and her new best friend had already chosen the same as worthy of her love after losing her first love. 

“First of all, Miles is my brother.”

Neith sat forward now, shocked.  She replayed the lines of Miles face, the dark blonde shade of his hair and his liberal use of gestures in her mind.  He was.  He was Elle’s kin, undoubtedly.  Neith hadn’t seen it because she was still unaccustomed to the idea that people had siblings around, no matter how many siblings she met.

“Are there any other familial relationships I should know about around here?  I knew a lot of you might be related, but I didn’t expect to miss something like that!” 

“Well, there’s Nola.”

“Nola?”            

“She’s my niece.  That’s why she and dad come by some days, when Miles is held up at the school, or working on projects…”  Niece; a word Neith had never used.  Wait, Elle had introduced her to Koro.  She hadn’t said...  Maybe Koro wasn’t a proper name. 

“What does Koro mean?”

“Grandfather.” 

“So he’s your…dad?”

Elle smiled.  Elle had said something like; We call him Koro, hadn’t she?  Back when they’d been introduced.  Elle had been telling Neith then – this man was the grandfather to all of the kids in earshot.  They all loved him too. 

More pieces snicked together.  Oh.  OH.

“Nola is Miles’ daughter.”  Neith didn’t frame this as a question.  She knew, the beautiful redhead’s gestures, the way Miles – Mr Flynn – had looked to her during class, and that whole bit about the warm water bag.  Neith had said it aloud to help assimilate the knowledge.  Embarrassment engulfed her.  Why had she leapt to deduce someone so amiable and handsome was available?  Of course he wasn’t.  He had a kid.  That kid had a mother.  Miles’ wife.  Neith groaned and clutched her forehead in her hands. 

“I suppose I never said…” Elle pulled her legs down, leaning forwards, unsure of what to do with her hands.

“You didn’t.”  Neith spoke from behind a curtain of straight black hair.  “It’s not your fault.  I was stupid.  I think I got intoxicated by Nydia and dared to hope, and see things that weren’t.”  Rose tints?

“Don’t say that.”

Neith looked up over her open hands at Elle.  “Why?  It’s the truth.  My case is and always will be hopeless.”  Neith returned to her former pose to disguise any facial giveaway of the current heart-sink she was experiencing.  She was meant to be visiting the schoolhouse today.

“I was hoping being here had helped you believe maybe things could be different for you. But Miles?  I’m sorry…he’s not really…available.  I’m sorry all of this is so complicated.”

What an understatement.  She finally felt romance was possible, in all its improbability, and had she made any advance, she’d have been asking to be a mistress?  She felt sick.  “Can we stop talking about it?  Forget I mentioned it.”  Her earlier rehearsal came to her, aptly, “It was only a small moment – it was probably nothing.”  She left off the part about the string.

Elle looked unsure but dropped it.  Now, for Neith to discover an inner reserve of strength to face the man whose smile made her torso feel like it was melting.



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