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  #31  
Old Dec 19th, 2023, 11:17 AM
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The Stray House
She Never Liked Goodbyes




~~ Wind Chimes ~~

Those with sensitive stomachs ought to close their eyes for the carnage that followed Henrietta and them fish guts as it was downright barbaric. That old angry hen knew exactly what was brought before her. And like a god who waited hungrily for a meaty sacrifice, gave Brody and Windell just enough time to step back before she dug in.

Fish guts went flying everywhere. The flurry in which she devoured those stinking innards truly instilled the Stray Kids with a feeling that she’d happily do the same to them once their time came. Henrietta leaving nothing left behind, and seemed to take great pleasure in smearing the gore across her graying feathers.

Thank goodness, though, Leslie was there to keep her attention after there was nothing left, ‘cuz shoot, Family, it didn’t take long before she had her fill. Satisfied by the meaty offering, attention drifting until she noticed Leslie was in the pen with her. Then she was all gore-covered sweetness, crooning an ugly sound as she waltzed around his wellies like a cat begging to picked up.

A sight that woulda had all the other kids questioning what sorta powers Leslie had over such a terrible beast.

Nell didn’t have to worry about a thing. In and out, like them proverbial ghosts she loved to sell to folks, she slipped on into the hen house and plucked herself that big iron key. It was covered in chicken crap but that was a blessing considering Nell was a little worried that she might find a finger or two brought back to Henrietta’s nest.

But that was that.

The key was theirs. Henrietta paid her toll. All that was left was to enter the Stray House.

All went silent as that key slid so unforgivably easy into the front door’s lock, and then with a turn, click.

The deed was done.

The door open.

The first thing the Stray Kids noticed is that it still smelled like Granny Innes’ place. No matter how much time passed since their last visit, there’s no shaking away from how much tobacco that woman smoked. Hers didn’t make you wanna lose your lunch, though, not like the tobacco in the big cities. Hers had a woodsy smell to it. Probably due to whatever herbs she stuffed in it with that bitter weed.

Sage hung from the windows still. Laid out to dry in the sunlight or the moonlight or whichever light she was eager to catch for her workings. Her recliner, which was new to little Nell, remained pulled up next to the fire place, covered in her quilt, which was good and long, as she added new pieces for every celebration she thought was worth memorializing in her stitching.

Birthdays. Graduations. Jobs taken and big fish caught.

It’d catch Leslie off-guard but even he couldn’t help but notice when he wandered in that she stitched a new part to quilt that had the name of that movie he was so proud of sewn into it.

As much as a stranger he was to these folks, he weren’t to Granny Innes.

There were plenty of rooms to sort through. Five bedrooms total. Four of which were belonged to them. The Stray Kids and the Innes’ children. Granny Innes did her best to make sure folks got enough room to themselves, but adding onto the cabin took a lot of work and a lot of wood that she just didn’t have the opportunity to do– although she always swore she would.

All the bedrooms were lined up next to each other, for ease in Granny Innes’ mind, so she could keep her wild young’uns safe and sound during the night. But it just offered opportunities for shenanigans for them. The way snuck around into each other’s room to tell ghost stories or play pranks on one another, least until they got a wild hare about ‘em and decided to take off into the wilderness.

Granny Innes’ room was the closest to the patio, near her garden outside. Very few of the Stray Kids were brave enough to venture into her most private of domains. Not ‘cuz she didn’t allow it– she always welcomed any of ‘em when the storms outside became too frightful to stay holed up in their bed by themselves– but ‘cuz it just felt weird to delve into anything she deemed worthy of keeping out of sight from them.

At least it was weird for most of them.

Her door was shut, not unexpectedly given how soft-hearted Kermit was and how he probably didn’t want to have to be looking in her room while knowing the terrible truth.

The other rooms were open and available venture into. Sort whose was whose for the stay if that old urge came rolling up. It wouldn’t surprise any of them to find that their old bedrooms unchanged for the most part. Only the one Colin’s claimed had become full with more diagrams and photographs of animals and lands far from sweet appalachia.

The Stray Kids were allowed to settle. To get themselves acquainted with old memories and old sights. Maybe even sneak a peak into the kitchen pantries for a snack. But regardless of what they choice, it wasn’t long before they heard the familiar hollering of one Kermit Innes.

"WE’VE DONE BEEN ROBBED!"

There coming up the only path to the Stray House was none other than the Innes’ kids themselves.

Kermit Innes with a whole slew of groceries he hardly knew what to do with once he saw that front door wide open; Maisie Innes whose keen eyes were already accounting the number of shadows moving in the window; Duncan Innes who was quick to call Kermit a ‘moh-ron’ for outing them out IF there were robbers at all; and a lone, tall fellow in the back that could’ve only been Colin Innes, although it was hard to tell from the ungodly amount of coal soot that swallowed him up from head-to-toe.

They were home, just like you were, Family.

And Lord help you for all the chaos that will bring.

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Last edited by Strangemund; Dec 19th, 2023 at 03:56 PM.
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  #32  
Old Dec 28th, 2023, 11:55 PM
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Ezra was well enough, which was good, though his comment brought out a rueful smile. "Yes, Kiera. None of us are as young as we used to be, that's for certain." She paused briefly, chancing a glance over at Henrietta. True to Ezra's words, while Kiera had been checking on him, the others had managed to finagle the key from her coop, and the bird was cooing around Leslie. "Except Henrietta, maybe." Nell had been the one to make the move on the coop, apparently just as quiet and quick as she'd been when last Kiera had been in Tennessee, sparkly city clothes and all. Lord, but Kiera couldn't go a moment without being dogged by memories, this time of losing track of a much younger Nell more times than she'd properly been able to count. Shaking the memories off seemed almost pointless. After all, with the key safely rescued from the monster’s den, they were able to move into the House itself which was nothing but memories.

Her first steps back into the House were almost reverent, eyes wandering this way and that over so many things that dragged her back in time. The Stray House still smelled like Granny Innes, she thought, overwhelmed by the twinned scents of tobacco and sage as she removed her coat to leave it on the rack. There wasn't any escape from smoke in New York, of course, but after a decade in the city the difference was immediately noticeable. Granny Innes' tobacco smelled like home and the woods, the stuff that hung thick and low everywhere in New York City had turned her off the habit entirely. The differences she had noted from the window, but so much of the House was the same. Granny's quilt was there, longer than ever with another ten years of celebrations for Granny's kids, Inneses and Strays alike, and it hurt to see. She could see signs of her passage on the quilt, and the deafening signs of her absence too. Kiera hesitated by the chair for a long moment, hand almost outstretched to reach for it. It had been a year before the first time she wrote a letter to send home. She’d been twenty, then, and had shredded it instead. She stepped away, shaking her head. There were ghosts here for her, and guilt.

Moving past the the fireplace and the entry led to the bedrooms, always the Stray Houses’s most chaotic little corner. Nine kids between four bedrooms at its busiest had made the House into Passelbranch's least restful home on more than one occasion, with kids and pranks going back and forth well into the night. Kiera paused at the door to Colin’s room. The roommates had changed fairly regularly by necessity when they'd all been growing up. Granny Innes' stray kids came and went and every so often a new one would pop up and send the whole house shuffling, but Colin's room had been where she'd spent most of her nights in the Rook. It had changed, somewhat, over the years, with the walls covered in photographs. She probably should have expected change. Still, Kiera thought she could see Colin's careful, deliberate hand at work in the placement of the photos. It was odd, though, wasn't it, that so many of them showed creatures and places far from home? Colin, in all the years she'd known him, had never been one to pay much attention to the world outside the Rook.

She stepped back into hallway after a moment, chased out by the uneasy sense that there was an intruder, and that the intruder was Kiera herself. One other room called her, tugging at her heart like a fishhook. The door to Granny's room was closed, and Kiera stood outside that door for a long minute, eyes locked on a distant point somewhere behind the closed door. The last time she'd stood here it had been dusk, the moment as clear as glass. The Stray House had been empty, the inhabitants called away for business or pleasure but doubtlessly returning soon. She'd been wearing a white shirt along with a dark coat and pants. Those clothes had ended the night blood soaked and discarded for replacements somewhere in Virginia, though her recollection there was foggier. Kiera had stood here about to go looking for a book. For a page, really, which she'd taken from one of Granny Innes' books that they really weren't supposed to be reading. Kiera had always been smarter and more stubborn than her quiet, withdrawn demeanor could adequately express. When she'd thought back on it over the years, that moment in front of the door had been the start of it all. It had been a last chance to reconsider doing something incredibly foolish, but as was the way with many important decisions there had been no real choice at all.

She was still standing there, staring, when the voices outside got started up.

"WE’VE DONE BEEN ROBBED!"

That voice went through her like a shock, because it could only belong to Kermit Innes. The man had a foghorn for a voice and the tact to match, so it was nice to see that some things don't change. His immediate assumption did little to dispel Kiera's concerns over being an intruder, however. Kermit was right, after a fashion. And how could she explain her invitation to the Innes kids, should it come up? She moved back towards the front of the House, just enough to get a peek out the door...and froze. Colin Innes was back, towering over his family members and covered head to toe in soot. This was the reunion that her mind had fled from so often on the trip from New York. So instead of reacting, Kiera froze in the hallways with her hands clenched, uncertain whether to laugh, run, or cry.
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  #33  
Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 12:18 AM
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Folks started slipping into the house, with a smidge but not absolute permission to do such a thing. J Windell wondered if that's how others might perceive him making his way into a cave for 'seng, if anyone could actually see such an action. He was in the area because it was the right season, didn't know why anyone else was present.

Stuff got left behind?

He looked behind him. Listened to a cool breeze. No one said to turn back. Possessions gathered, he went inside.

Bad leaves.

The ginseng getter still had his sense of smell, it wasn't burnt away along with certain nose hairs in the tiniest of 'lectrical fires what was near his face a couple years back whilst learning about building radios. He met a tobacconist in Nashville the day before those flames. That guy would have torched his brother to get that Innes Blend if J Windell had brought any with him and let the salesman catch a whiff of the stuff, but it didn't come up. The would be builder was only in the shop to buy his first ever shaving kit. A voice in a not so cool breeze had suggested it.

No cracks in the walls. Kept the scents in.

The gathered group eyed the things in the House now more than each other. They were all twelve again. Who gets the best room? Why do any of us get a room? Who still lives here?

A real human voice, definitive and familiar, called out about a robbery. Had to be Kermit. Probably meant the open door in front. Probably didn't mean the rocks that J Windell had acquired and redistributed.

Let the talkers talk.

The radio repairman, not so much a builder, knew it was time for one of the invited burglars nearby to lean into the microphone.
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  #34  
Old Jan 2nd, 2024, 11:41 PM
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"WE’VE DONE BEEN ROBBED!"

In that split second, it was as though years of Nell's life vanished into the ether. No Boston, no "Eleanor Rooke," no starlet makeover. The voice triggered an instantaneous flip of some internal switch-- a built-in knee-jerk reaction of a mousy-haired little girl who got into heaps of trouble. Without thought, the ancient mantra of her youth burst forth from her lips:

"I AIN'T DONE NOTHIN' AND YOU CAN'T PROVE NOTHIN,' KERMIT!"

Nell's eyes widened in mortification as she slapped her hand over own mouth. Oh no, being back here had already brought back the accent. Five minutes in the old house and she was already back to saying "ain't." Years in Boston crafting a whole new persona, and it flies out the window the minute she hears Kermit.

Clearing her throat and shaking off the embarrassment, Nell forces a smile and leans out the front door. She offers a bashful wave to the Innes kids.

"You're, uh, late," she said. "We let ourselves in."
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  #35  
Old Jan 4th, 2024, 12:00 AM
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Ezra Micheal Crenshaw, the fourth of his name, stood out in the yard of his childhood second home and took his time finishing his smoke. He was so eager to see inside that old house, but now that it was open, he weren't in no hurry. There was a heavy cloud of dread looming over him like some thunderstorm rolling in to turn a summer sky black. It felt like walking through that door was a step towards finality. As if somehow it wasn't exactly real if he didn't see it. He knew that was just stupid selfish thinking though, plenty of things continue to exist and persist despite people's desires or acknowledgment.

It was strange to see the place empty. Still, it was as familiar as it ever was except for the alien silence. You could tell right away that something was missing, like seeing your papaw without his beard. It felt wrong and unnatural, but that was to be expected. The bottle on the coffee table caught Ez's eye immediately and he shrugged to nobody in particular as if conceding to some unheard invitation before taking a seat on the couch and pouring a couple of fingers worth of clear liquid into one of the glasses. If anyone else seemed interested, he'd pour another drink too.

He was curious about who might've made it. A sniff confirmed it was local and fairly strong, could've been the Millers or Holloways. Bobby always did like the white lightning. Closing his eyes, Ezra tilted his glass back and filled his mouth with moonshine. There was an immediate numbing effect followed by a tingling twitch in his jaw and then a burn that filled his throat like liquid fire and settled in his belly where it mellowed to a warmth that radiated out to soften his muscles. A faint taste of sugar and medicine lingered on his tongue.

Kermit's voice carried itself boldly into the house from across the way. Ezra smiled and opened his eyes. He put the glass back on the table and laughed at Nell's reply. It was almost like stepping back through time, being here. He stood up and quietly slipped out the back with a wink or sly nod to the other Stray kids along the way.

Once out the door with a finger held up in front of his mouth in the universal symbol for "shh", he quickly made for the trees and their concealing shadows to try and circle around behind the Innes kids and surprise Kermit, or at least play along with his robbery story. It helped that the front door was open, that's where everyone was looking. When he got close enough, Ezra rushed to snatch Kermit in a bear hug and coldly said, "Your sundries or your life," before adding with a burst of laughter, "only a real moh-ron would come all the way out here looking for trouble!" He didn't fully realize how much he missed everyone from home until they were all together again. Here.

OOCI'm attempting to use my trained skill, sneaking, here pretty much solely to mess with Kermit. Not sure what kind of difficulty that'd be but maybe Nell at the front door is an asset to ease that difficulty further?
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  #36  
Old Jan 6th, 2024, 10:04 PM
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"Well, ain't that a kick in the nuts?" The former strays, now good and grown, floated around the empty house like ghosts while Brody couldn't seem to muster anything beyond the unlocked threshold. He stood there and rubbed the back of his neck again as Ezra went for a bottle of shine in the main room and the Devlin woman disappeared down the hall.

We know the house was open, don't we? We know whatever charms and the like that might have kept the boogers at bay would not stop the likes of him, but the scent of tobacco embedded in the walls and blankets and rugs felt every bit like the gravel filling the old fort. Brody's hand went to the old pouch in his shirt pocket over his heart. It might just have been filled with old bones and other witchy things, but it was the last thing Granny Innes ever gave him and even though he doubted it would ever embolden his limbs like she told him once it would, it nonetheless gave him strength in times like these.

*****
"I never cottoned to the notion of 'good for nothin'," she said as she tucked the charm in his young hands and then smacked him gently on the cheek. "You're good for somethin', ain't you, Brody Aiden Whitt? Somethin' more than making trouble. You got a sort of empty shine to you. The Green ain't got you but neither does the other. Least-wise not yet." The giant woman turned and didn't bother washing her hands from handling the musty old sack before returning to her kitchen duties. "That's somethin' ain't it? Means you get to choose, and when you do, don't forget about what I just gave you. You think on that. And go find the others. Supper will be ready in two shakes."
*****

Only supper wouldn't be ready anymore. Not the ones Granny made. He felt things well up, so he stuffed them down like idiot men are wont to do. "Don't get to cozy on the couch, Ezra. You know that's my bunk." When he wasn't making secret plans with Colin in his room, he did stay there on that couch as a kid. Not that Granny didn't want him in a room, it's just...Brody never felt right taking a space when he had a home he could run to in the dark if he really needed to. So many other strays needed a real place to call home.

He shored up his courage to enter the Rook and set about lighting a fire in the fireplace to make it a little cozier for everyone involved. A hook swung over it and he set a pot of water there for coffee or tea as the tinder lit and the kindling slowly began to catch. It felt good to do something. It kept his mind off the haints lurking the old house. Memories could haints, couldn't they? He stood back up with only one pop in his joints and took a deep breath before venturing down the hall to see how the others were fairing. Most of the rooms were empty of people but as he passed by Colin's room, he spotted Kiera looking at keenly but not touching things there. She was so intent that she didn't notice him. He watched her looking at the strange photographs and diagrams on the walls for a moment, wondering what might be going through her head. Knowing he was going to startle her with a clearing of his throat or words either way, he chose the latter. "Patrick was in here a lot." There. It was out there. Goddammnit. The name he tried to forget but never did was out there and he wasn't hiding from what she might say about it. But even without him saying a word, the old soul hung in the room like Granny's tobacco smell, moldering.

It wasn't his damn fault Patrick ran away. It wasn't. How was he supposed to find him when JW and Ezra and Kermit and Colin couldn't? That was never truly what ate away at him though, even though he thought it was. Somewhere deeper where guilt hung splayed out like a skinned deer, the real reason lay. But again he turned away before he reached those dark steps. It was easier to face this false pain and the scrutiny of a Devlin in this manner than to confront what he really had done. "Those are new," he said woodenly and slipped away from the door.

It wasn't long after that the call rang out from Kermit and immediately Nell's denial from the house. Brody laughed briefly at her defiant words but felt a nudge in his back. JW was pushing him to say something else. He shrugged. "Kermit, I swear if you have your squirrel gun, you better lay it down! I'm coming out and it won't do to get shot at a wake!" Brody poked his head out and, seeing hands filled with groceries rather than .22s, he stepped further into view. He saw them all together, the Innes kids, and smiled. Until he saw Colin's coal-streaked body. What kind of friend had he been these last years to not know?
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  #37  
Old Jan 24th, 2024, 10:50 AM
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The Stray House
She Never Liked Goodbyes




~~ Wind Chimes ~~

Lightning struck the Innes’ kids in the form of one Nell Daniels. None of them expected to hear her hollering from the inside of their shared childhood home, or that she’d still be swearing up and down that she was innocent as a lamb. A lie she told well and often throughout their lives. One that was easily thwarted just by checking her stash beneath her bedroom’s floorboards.

‘course they weren’t kids no more and when that thought finally snapped into place for Maisie Innes, she broke into a smile that would’ve watered the county’s crops for a full two seasons. “Well, if that ain’t a face for sore eyes! Sweet little Nelly-Belly herself. Although I suppose time’s passed enough that we’re going to have to drop the ‘little’ part.”

“And the ‘sweet’, given her timely arrival,” muttered Duncan, Of course, Leslie never saw such a side of Duncan. That man was nothing but honey and wine 'round him. Lending out flatteries and kindness until sun up and sun down. This was a new side to Duncan he'd yet to have the pleasure to meet.every bit the sourpuss they remembered. He was just dolled up more. Wearing a suit and tie that must’ve been printed on money from how he held himself like he was twice their better and then some.

Kermit was still Kermit. Sun-burnt to hell. Hair messier than a bird’s nest and his hat rattier than a beggar’s cot. He was every bit the opposite to the shine Duncan brought in from the big city– which suited Kermit just right. He never really liked suits, and they didn’t seem to like him, either, if they were honest.

What he did like, though, was his family.

Hearing Nell and Brody holler back at him, Kermit perked up like a golden retriever ready to fly free across the field. Which was not too far from how Kermit was actually feeling. Had his arms not been weighed down by groceries, he woulda sprinted right in and squeezed them into a Kermit-patented hug until they were crying ‘uncle!’

“Oh don’t you worry none, Sheriff!” laughed Kermit, “All I got on me is corn, beans, an’ some chops too good to waste on a wallopin’! ‘sides, Maisie wouldn’t let me take the squirrel gun out into town. ‘fraid I’d shoot myself in the foot while I was haulin’ the groceries up the hill.” He paused, and then added with a guilty side-nod. “Again.”

The conversation at hand served Ezra well in his endeavors to sneak up on Kermit. None of the Innes’ kids were aware he done slipped up behind them, including Colin, who busied himself with wiping his face clean from the soot that clung to him like a second skin. Honestly, it was all too easy for Ezra. But it made sense, didn’t it? Years spent traveling the country was bound to make him a master of the road, of the dark and winding paths.

The instant Ezra snaked his arms up behind Kermit and squeezed– that was when the big man hollered like he’d been shot. The groceries dropped. Disregarded completely. As Kermit seized up and looked down to catch sight of what villain had caught him with his proverbial pants down until he realized recognized them writer’s hands… and the burst of laughter that rumbled into his back from behind.

“Ezra!?” cried out Kermit, a well of emotion suddenly sweeping over him. “Yo-you are here?” came the trembling of his voice, cracking in a way he hadn’t done since he had to send Ezra off the first time he left the house for his work.

In an instant, Kermit half-turned to catch Ezra by the shoulder, hand clasped firmly on his collar, and that was that, Family. Ezra lost in an embrace that promised to never let him go again. Tears wetted Ezra’s cheek, as Kermit out-right blubbered, “I wasn’t s-sure we’d find ya in time! Post don’t go out into the woods! Figured you’d sniff wouldn’t have known ‘bout… ‘bout…”

He couldn’t bring himself to say it. That Granny Innes was gone. How could any of them when her death still left bitter taste in all their mouths.

Colin rested a reassuring hand on a sniffling Kermit’s back before he looked to the others. Nell, Brody, J. Windell who was tucked in the back, and Leslie who hovered by the door. Even Kiera, who he regarded in a quiet way that put her right back to the river banks where he watched her while she talked the night away under a different name.

He isn’t the oldest of the Stray Kids, such a right belonged to Brody, no matter how much he denied his place here. And yet Colin couldn’t shake that older brotherly instinct to say something when the air grew tense like this.

“Ya’ll hungry?”

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  #38  
Old Jan 29th, 2024, 05:15 PM
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Funny.

Amusement at the surprise upon Kermit. Or strangeness that it happened. J Windell was hearing two different opinions in his mind's ear.

Funnin'.

The repairman recalled that's what some of the townsfolk would describe some of the times people were talking down to Kermit. Most meant no harm. Some, like Duncan, maybe sometimes did. Maybe Kermit wasn't the smartest man in the holler in terms of book learning, but mind you, there's never been any Official Smartest Person In Town Contest.

Fuming.

The voices concurred that Duncan would be angry if he lost such a competition. J Windell found himself thinking up what all would be needed to construct the everything needed to put that contest on the radio. In town, of course. Not here, neither Granny Innes nor Mother Earth would allow it here. Just stray thoughts from a stray, but loud enough to muffle the mirth that was being brought by conversation in the House.

Fuming. Y'all.

That's how the one announcer he could remember from Nashville would describe Duncan's demeanor after defeat. But then J Windell focused on why he came back to the House. Why he wasn't repairing or gathering. Something he wasn't quite sure had happened yet.

"Funeral?"

Maybe they hadn't had one yet. There were six Strays gathered by Henrietta's gaze. Six is the traditional number of pall bearers.

Last edited by zevonian; Jan 29th, 2024 at 05:19 PM.
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Old Jan 29th, 2024, 11:23 PM
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"Patrick was in here a lot."

The voice caught her off guard, lost in memories as she'd been, and it was all Kiera could do to stop herself from jumping and pushing the speaker away. Thankfully some part of her had identified the speaker as Brody even before she'd turned to catch sight of the lawman. Brody Whitt, on a closer inspection, had seen better days. His face was drawn, lending him a tight expression so distant from the hellraiser she’d known. Between that and the haunted look he had whenever Brody so much as ran his eyes over her, he seemed almost a shell of himself, as though time and distance had hollowed out the man she'd known as Brody Whitt.

A part of her was surprised that he'd mentioned the name. Heck, a part of her was surprised he even remembered that name. So many signs of her passing seemed to have eroded over the years that it was almost odd that any mark had been left at all. And the way he carried it, the way he said it, gave the old name so much more weight than Kiera could have anticipated. It felt almost like guilt, but what earthly reason would Brody have to feel guilty? She didn't have much time to respond before he moved, on, a muttered "Those are new," the last he had to say before slipping away, but she had to say something.

"Thank you, Brody. For caring," She answered, catching him before he could fully disappear into the hall. "You’re a good man.”

-——-

When the Innes kids arrived it was Nell, bless her, who broke the silence inside the house, and managed to drag them all back a decade by doing so. "I ain't done nothin'," may as well have been Nell's middle name back when they were growing up. It brought a surprised smile to Kiera's face, then an outright laugh. Relax. Breathe. Colin Innes, her closest and only confidant, the friend she'd abandoned in a desperate attempt to save her own life, was approaching. That was terrifying, yes, definitely. But there was enough of home here, even still, to ground Kiera and keep the rising panic at a safe distance.

That feeling was reinforced as the Innes and Stray Kids began to mix. Ezra and Kermit were a joy to watch together, though she had to look away from them before their tears turned infectious. Duncan was there too, unfortunately, sour enough to be spotted through any bit of finery. He'd done well for himself, at least, or at least went to great lengths to appear as though he had. Lord, he'd been exhausting enough as a child, the thought of him as a grown man with money to throw around was almost enough to send her back to the train station without hesitation. Maisie was always a solid antidote for her younger brother, though, and Kiera thought that still might be the case based on the smile Nell had conjured.

She was stalling, of course, even as her legs carried her along to stand at the very edge of the reunion. Her dress had seemed a practical, respectful choice on the train but now seemed woefully inadequate. The atmosphere was erratic, spiraling back in forth the way only reunions and funerals could manage. Granny Innes' absence was like a gap in a stair that everyone was avoiding, but even the hint of it was enough to dampen the mood. They were together again, but the circumstances were too costly.

Colin, despite his height, always had a way of blending into the background of any gathering, and he'd managed to do so again even with all the soot he'd brought with him from God only knew. They'd fit well together in that way, back when they were young. Colin's presence had always been a balm for her when she'd felt painfully, obnoxiously visible despite her best efforts to the contrary. This moment of visibility was new and different in a way that brought life to her face in the from of a faint pink flush. When they were both younger, Kiera had managed to tell Colin the truth. It had taken years to find the words and the courage, but she'd told him. He'd listened, and he'd done his best to support her. He even knew her name. If anyone would know her, it would be Colin. And with his glance that reminded her far too much of nights spent by the river, Kiera found herself hoping that he did. She owed him so many apologies.

"Ya'll hungry?"

The question broke through whatever spell the moment had laid on Kiera, and she jerked back almost as if struck. Focus. Right. Kermit had carried (and dropped) groceries, enough to feed everyone and then some. Colin's gentle push had the group moving inside once more, and Kiera helped gather up some of them, especially because she wasn’t sure Ezra would manage to claw himself free of Kermit.

The move inside brought warmth to the Stray House that had been missing when they’d arrived. With everyone home (and this truly was home, wasn’t it? What a thing to realize a decade too late), the rekindled connections between the others felt so bright to Kiera that it almost burned. It had been a long, long time since Kiera had been present for something like this, even standing quietly on the outskirts as she helped get things sorted in the kitchen. There had been friends over the years, of course, even more than friends, on occasion. But the life she’d been living had precluded long term connections by default. Here, though it was impossible to step sideways without walking through the ghosts of more memories than she could count.

It was probably for the best that J Windell asked about the funeral before things had a chance to feel too normal. The quiet, one word ”Funeral?” managed to cut through conversations and bring the metaphorical temperature down a dozen degrees. Had they had one yet? Kiera thought it unlikely, but her eyes looked for Colin anyway to gauge his reaction. There was a gap there, a chance to say something and be present instead of waiting for the chance to flee, and Kiera took it. Colin always had been good for her courage.

“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” she added. “I’d half expected her to be here when I arrived, ready with a tongue lashing worse than the time I stayed out all night and came back to find her at the door.” That had been a bad night, rife with the worst of her nightmares, and Granny Innes had let her have it in between making sure she wasn’t hurt overly much the next day. More importantly, Colin had been there for the aftermath. Brody and Nell might have been within shouting distance too, if memory served.
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Old Feb 5th, 2024, 10:22 PM
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"Well, if that ain’t a face for sore eyes! Sweet little Nelly-Belly herself. Although I suppose time’s passed enough that we’re going to have to drop the ‘little’ part.”

Nell's mouth twisted into a smile despite her best attempts to scowl. Dammit. She was supposed to give a delicate huff and say "It's ELEANOR, not 'Nelly.' in the fanciest high class voice she could muster. Supposed to show them all how elegant and mysterious and successful she had become. How she'd bloomed in the big city and was doing great because everything is great and everyone should be jealous of how great things have gone for her. Her handbag is beaded! Her dress has sequins! She might have dyed her hair in her apartment's sink, but she'd had it cut in an honest-to-goodness salon by someone with a French name!. She wasn't at all flying by the seat of her pants with no plan other than "keep spinning that wool and pull it over everyone's eyes till you run out of sheep!"

Nope. Instead of all the grand words and better-than-thou glances she'd practiced in the mirror, the facade crumbled at the first words from the Innes kids. She couldn't stop the grin, so for once, she didn't try.

"And if it ain't Crazy Maisie." she said. "And Dour Duncan, sour-faced as ever." Well. She could at least pick on Dunc.

"Y'all hungry?"

Colin, ever the peacekeeper. It may have been the unwritten laws of hospitality that everyone in these parts just grew up knowing, or maybe it was just the innate understanding that the best way to shut up the pack of feral dogs otherwise known as the Stray Kids was to feed them. Either way, it worked.

Nell looked towards the house's kitchen. Empty. Cold.

"...Feels wrong eating here without... her." Nell said quietly.

"Funeral?"

Windell had a way of saying a lot with very little words. It wasn't Nell's style, but it was effective. Everyone quieted.

It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” Keira added. “I’d half expected her to be here when I arrived, ready a tongue lashing worse than the time I stayed out all night and came back to find her at the door.”

Now that was odd. When was Keira here? Did she move in after Nell moved out? Did Granny and the Innes Kids replace her so quickly? Or...

Wait. Out all night. Why did that sound familiar?

There was too much going on. Nell's head was all mixed up. Time to focus on the food again.

"Well..." she said, clearing her throat. "Anything actually edible in those groceries?"
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Old Feb 6th, 2024, 09:39 AM
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In Passelbranch, as one might hope in the rest of the so-called civilized world, one didn't show up to a gathering empty-handed. It just wasn't done. You always had a cake or a pie or a casserole, a jug of shine, or a treat from town. Anything to pay the ferryman passage across the river. But show up empty-handed was exactly what Brody had done. We could make excuses for him, say that as sheriff he had shown up to so many doors with nothing but his badge that it became his default...his modus operandi Duncan would say, but rudeness like this should not so easily be set aside, Family.

Seeing the Innes kids and the groceries on the ground drove his breach of etiquette home. So, face burning from embarrassment, Brody made with quick feet to go scoop them up while Kermit and Ezra blubbered and hugged it out. It was the least he could do. "You look a mess, brother," he said to Colin as they walked in. He smirked and then nodded to Maisie and Duncan. Kermit would be indisposed for a while for pleasantries. He noted how their faces had aged, just beyond youth, into something adult and respectable. It was so easy to fall into old patterns as Nell had among old friends, but all the changes kept shunting Brody back to the present. Why had it been so long? He knew why. "Maisie Mae..." He shook his head and couldn't seem to muster any more for her. With girls and boys, there comes a time when the obvious biologies of growing up separated them from being indistinguishable equals and linked them in a different way. And to Brody's eyes, Maisie could not have done a finer job of growing up. Duncan, on the other hand had become a physical manifestation of of his sour nature. He carried around his suit like an insult. "Duncan. Here to sign the papers, I reckon?" Duncan hated the word reckon.

Inside, Brody took the groceries to the sink and listened to the others talk in the living room. His hands were covered in dirt and maybe a bit of bucket grossness, so he washed up, smarting as the soap hit the cut on his thumb. Reminded of the arrowhead, he took it out of his pocket and washed it up carefully too. "Colin, get in here and help," he called out. "You too, JW. And yeah, if there's no body, there's no funeral. Are we sure she just finally didn't turn into a bear and wander off into her woods?" It was a rumor the kids all had a one point. That Granny was actually a bear in human disguise all along. But it was a joke that fell flat in the seriousness of the wake and the loss they were all feeling. Like Nell, he had noticed Kiera's strange reference, like she was pretending to be Patrick who couldn't be there, but he let it slide. Still, another tumbler fell. It wouldn't be long before the lock of Kiera Devlin fell open.

Now, Brody was not what one would call an accomplished cook. Bacon, eggs and coffee or the occasional deer sausage over a campfire were his staples. But someone had to do it, and no one was going to do the Rook justice when all their memories were tied up in Granny's pies and biscuits. So if one of them was going to fail, he figured it should be him. One last time to take the blame for the others. Colin entered the small kitchen and got a damp towel in the face for his obedience. "Wash up." Brody said with all the scorn he thought Granny could muster. "And you," he considered JW for a moment before flipping a paring knife over and pushing it toward him handle first, "You look like you've peeled a few taters in your day, haven't you, son?" JW couldn't help notice Brody's eyes glancing down at his army boots. He figured at some time Good-eyed had found himself in the army, what with that footwear and the way he had hut-hutted off for the fish guts when given an "order". It's all he said on the matter, but somehow it conveyed the respect he had for a soldier. Sometimes it is what goes unsaid that speaks the most, like the fingers that lingered on Colin's door frame for just a moment longer after Kiera's kind words.

"Let's see if this thing works, eh, Good-Eyed?" using the Lucky Rock CypherHe pressed the flint arrowhead to his lips, tucked it away in his shirt pocket with Granny's gift and went to work. Beans were set for a quick soak which was better than no soak at all. Ham hocks were given a rough chop and put in a cast iron in the oven to roast up for a little more flavor before they went in the beans and greens. Collards were cleaned, chops were seasoned and dusted with flour ready to get fried in butter and some of the rendered fat, and potatoes were mashed with more butter and cream. Something about Granny's kitchen took over. Brody 'felt the spirit', as the revival preachers called it. He felt his hands go to witchy herbs on the sill, at least what he took them to be, on their own where they were chopped and crushed and slipped in the gravy. Turns out, it was just some rosemary. Everything was where it should have been in her kitchen, and Brody smiled as her hands seemed to work through him and made Lucky Rock worked! Nat 20the best and only meal he would ever make of its kind.

"So, Maisie picked you up at the station? You riding the boxcars like a tramp, Colin? They don't let miners get in the passenger cars like that. Or are you working the coal cars now?" He glanced up at his oldest friend. Best, well, that was a term for days when he could have still been considered a good friend at least. No, they weren't best friends anymore, but they were still brothers. They would always be that. "You working to save up for a trip?" He remembered the exotic places and animals on his bedroom walls. It wasn't enough for Brody to notice things, he had to work them out with context. It was the lawman in him.

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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 10:56 PM
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When the levee breaks
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"Ain't no regular post come out to them woods, no," Ezra sniffled as a fat hot tear rolled lazily down his cheek leaving a wet trail like a slug on a wide green hosta leaf in the early morning light, "but ain't nothin' regular about Granny. A bird flew in, special delivery. I'd rather spend a night with the Bell Witch in her cave than be anywhere else but here with you'ns." His voice cracked at the end of that last sentence, mostly on account of Kermit doing the same but also, he meant it. Now, this was a powerful invocation. There was a time when they would stay up late and scare each other silly with that old legend before sneaking out so Ez could climb up on Kermit's shoulders and scrraaaattch at Duncan's window.

Hearing the grief in Kermit's voice brought a lump big as any biscuit ever to come out of yonder kitchen to Ezra's throat. He had just enough time to blurt out, "I didn't believe it til I got here," before the tears were freely flowing and his voice lost out to sobs. It was hard enough coming to terms with the fact he wasn't here when she passed, but to think he might've missed any chance to say goodbye or help with picking up everything she held together? He was glad he didn't have to think about that.

Ezra held close to the person he always wanted to be closer to, Kermit smelled earthy and comforting like tobacco and sweat, leather and the woods. It smelled like home. He realized he could get himself lost there in that moment except, he couldn't. There were things to do, rituals folks had to perform at these times, and steps to follow. Colin, ever practical, was the one to break the spell and say it. "I might could maybe eat," Ez answered, his forehead still resting on Kermit's shoulder. It was then that he looked up and actually saw Colin, covered in soot. Coal. That old curse wrapped in a blessing underneath these hills. It was a bit odd to see its touch on Colin but, there were plenty of other differences he wasn't expecting so he didn't mention it.

Eventually, the salty rivers of his eyes dried out and Ezra wiped them with his sleeve before heading into the house to help lighten the load however he could. It looked like Brody and them had supper thoroughly handled but he could shuck corn or make coffee if needed. He found the linens and set the table like he used to do so long ago and brought in wood for the fireplace. Staying busy and focused made everything easier, even if it was something as simple as fetching glasses for tea and water. The smells wafting out of the kitchen sure helped to provide distractions as well as round out a little of what was missing from the house so the absence wasn't quite so bluntly obvious. And for that he was thankful.
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 01:41 PM
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J Windell waited for someone with the last name of Innes to respond to his brief statement. Considered what everyone was saying. And then someone called him "JW", which anyone that actually cared about him would never do. That someone said that as if giving an order.

He thinks his old tin star still means something.

The repairman deliberately paused. Knew he couldn't just march over and offer quiet correction. Walked around the room, avoiding those in conversation by way of just looking around at whatever was on the walls up close. Eventually he made his way over towards Brody, who was holding out a knife.

Does he think you showed up unarmed?

Out of some instinct, or perhaps spite, as Brody talked, J Windell adjusted his overcoat to reveal the hilt of a sheathed blade. Military grade knife, not necessarily for hunting.

No, he just wants help with the...Son?

Brody's downward gaze at the army boots was a giveaway. The statement that followed required immediate, quiet correction.

"No. Not related."

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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 03:59 PM
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The Stray House
She Never Liked Goodbyes




~~ Cooking in the Kitchen ~~

Lotta folks don’t realize how much power there is in words. The right words, that is. But J. Windell here, while not much of a talker himself, and some days, even put quiet Colin to shame, wielded his words like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind right outta your lungs.

"Funeral?" is all he asked. Just one word, Family; one we’ve all heard in passing once or twice in our lifetimes. But the implications behind it here was enough to make even Duncan swallow hard. That tough, city boy facade falling away to the cherub-faced baby of the group who clung to his mama’s apron like a lifeline.

"No," answers Duncan, the frog in his throat croaking sorely, "No funeral yet. Maisie didn’t want to start preparations without everyone here. Had I known she meant everyone," There went the biggest stink-eye Duncan could muster, thrown right at his dear sister, "I would’ve prepared accordingly."

"’Prepared accordingly??’ What are you, a gangster now?" Maisie cocks her brow in elderly sister defiance, and beats out Duncan’s glower with her mastery of making him foolish for opening his fat mouth. "They have every right to be here just as much as us. Mama would’ve wanted it that way. You gonna argue with what Mama wanted? Hm?"

"... I will do no such thing." But the look on Duncan’s face said he didn’t have to like it.

“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” Kiera chimes in, further breaking the tension building between the Innes children. “I’d half expected her to be here when I arrived, ready with a tongue lashing worse than the time I stayed out all night and came back to find her at the door.”

Maisie is the first to pause at this woman, this stranger, who speaks with such familiarity about Granny Innes and still be somebody she did NOT recognize. Oh sure, Maisie moved out years ago at the ripe age of sixteen, but she visited her mama still. And she wrote plenty. This Kiera may as well have been a snipe, or a two-headed snake.

"You’d think after the first lecture we would’ve learned our lesson ‘bout being out late. She could’ve put the devil straight, and then some." She meets Kiera at the door frame, and politely offers her hand, trying to do right and be neighborly to someone she thought a stranger. "’fraid I must’ve missed your time at The Stray House. I am Maisie. Maisie Mae, although only the bravest, or the dumbest, dare to call me that." She thumps Brody in the ribs as he passes by, not too old to roughhouse despite her growth spurt into a seemingly proper lady. "What’s your name, darling?"

No sooner did the name Devlin leave Kiera’s lips did Colin slam into the doorframe. Maisie jumps outta her skin and spins around on him like a spitting cat. "Colin! You trying to bring the roof down over our heads?" He doesn’t say anything. But that’s cuz he’s looking right at Kiera, right at her, like nothing else existed. Ooh, Kiera thought she all pins and needles before but now?

"Colin, get in here and help," came Brody’s hollering. “You too, JW.”

Colin flinches, and pushes the only clean part of him– his glasses– back up his nose. "Coming! Um. Sorry, Maisie. Ma’am." In awkward Colin fashion, he tips his hat, and scurries on off to the kitchen, stopping just for a moment in the arch between rooms to spare her a second lingering look. And then he was gone.

"Sorry about that, about him," sighs Maisie, "Colin didn’t… handle Patrick’s disappearance well. Which must be silly hearing from us. You are blood kin. That sorta loss runs deeper, right?" Pursing her lips together, Maisie whispers in a softer, more delicate tone, "Colin and Patrick were real close. We used to joke they’d end up stuck together, right at the hip." There’s a fleeting smile on her face, remembering them together, but it is swept away as she reassures Kiera with a gentle squeeze of her hand. "Our condolences for your loss. Had we known he still had kin, well, I think we could’ve met each other on much better terms."

"No better time to start then now!" sang Kermit, dragging him and Ezra inside. One arm still wrapped around little Ezra, the two a red-eyed, sniffly mess of a pair. But Kermit was already starting to bounce back, no doubt due to having more of his old bosom friends ‘round to brighten his spirits. "Name’s Kermit! Thissun here is Ezra, writer and survivalist extraordinaire! And that sparkly diamond is none of than Nell Daniels, quickest fingers in the West!"

"But is she quick enough to dodge a bonafide, Kermit-patented BEAR HUG?" And there that wily dog went, letting go of Ezra and got into The Position. Half-crouched, wingspan fully spread, he loomed over like a giant grizzly bear, ready to lunge. "What’ll it be? Ten second head start? Twenty? Don’t ask for higher than that. You know I can’t count that high."

‘course Kermit says that, trying to be fair in this child’s game they hadn’t played in years, but he still, very audibly, mind you, tells Ezra from the corner of his mouth, "Iffin she dodges to my blind spot, cut her off, Ezra."

Regardless of what happens in the den, whether Kermit finds himself face to face with Nell Daniels or Eleanor Rooke, Brody was hard at work in the kitchen.

Blessed it be, Granny Innes’ kitchen was untouched by time. I swear it, Family. Criss-cross right over my heart. It is the same as Brody remembered it as a boy. The only difference is that he no longer needed a chair to sneak a couple of sugar cookies outta the cupboard. Now, he stood in her shoes.

Colin didn’t argue or fuss once that wet towel hit his face. He left to scrub himself raw in the washroom, while Brody reacquainted himself with this familiar haunt. He’d never know for certain if it was the arrowhead that guided his hand to the right knife for the chops or pick out the freshly seasoned pots that wouldn’t let nuttin burn at the bottom– but it all fell into place. Like that last piece to a puzzle, Brody found himself feeling whole for the first time in years.

It is right ‘round the time Brody was getting to the gravy Colin returned. Face bright red from the knuckle-deep scrubbing he had to do, but still miles better than the chimney cat he showed up as. It didn’t take long for him to take his place right beside Brody, choosing to cut up the rest of the carrots and onions while Brody stirred.

"So, Maisie picked you up at the station? You riding the boxcars like a tramp, Colin? They don't let miners get in the passenger cars like that. Or are you working the coal cars now?"

It hurt, Lord be certain, it hurt to see how Colin hesitated to answer his once-called best friend’s question. But there it was. Hesitation. Plain as the red on a cardinal’s back. "You are not gonna like the answer," is what Colin finally settled on, after a moment’s silence that felt like it went on forever. "But I suppose it is no use denying it. Not to you. You know me too well." Chop chop chop. "No. 14 over in Avery County. Coal mine. Run by the B&L company."

He finishes off the carrots, moves onto the onions next. Colin avoiding eye contact, because he knew what he admitted was the closest thing to sinning you could do in The Stray House. "... nobody was supposed to know." And like that, Colin deflates, fully aware of the tirade that was gonna be awaiting him once the others got a chance to chew his ear off like Maisie no doubt had.

"But I am not slick like you, or Windell, Nell or…" It is then Kiera shows up with Maisie and Duncan in tow. Brody catching how Colin lets his knife fall flat on the cutting board, something he’d never do with so many of them cooking together. But it seemed like Kiera caught him off-guard just as much as she had Brody. "I… excuse me for j-just a sec, Brody. We’ll talk more over dinner. I promise." And to seal his word, his bond, he cups the back of Brody’s head and brings it to his, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, brother to brother. "I swear it."

Colin ruffles Windell’s hair as he goes by, Duncan taking his place at the cutting board. His jacket abandoned, and his fancy cufflinks unbuttoned. Sleeves rolled up. Just enough for him to join in the work. Not after, of course, a quick bite of what Brody was working on.

"And here I thought you couldn’t cook anything that didn’t come straight out of a can. No offense, Windell." Was that supposed to be offensive to Windell, too? As the duo tried to work out the how on that, Duncan took his first bite of the searing chops, and shoot, the boy almost drifted away from the nostalgic taste of Granny Innes’ cooking. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that Duncan was outright breathless. "It tastes just like her chops."

As Duncan shares the most befuddled expression with Brody and JW, Colin, hands wringing, takes a moment to ask Kiera, "Miss Devlin, do you mind if we have a word in private?"

Maisie, sensing something going on, immediately, and excitedly, excused herself, "Oh don't mind me. I'll check on the others. Ezra! Kermit! Nell! You better not be breaking anything in there!"

CRASH!

"Nell did it!"

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Old Feb 10th, 2024, 01:45 AM
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The words were out and the moment stretched. Maisie's reaction, the first unstated demand for clarification, wasn't surprising. The young Maisie had been had always had a fiercely defensive streak toward her family (when they weren't the targets of her temper, anyway), and if the years had tempered her that had still not been worn away. It was better than Duncan demanding answers, at any rate. Kiera took Maisie's hand with a smile, thoughts flitting briefly back toward Granny Innes, though her eyes couldn't help flicking toward Colin. "Some lessons I had to learn more than once, I'm afraid. I'm Kiera. Kiera Devlin." If her story had been a fuse set to garner a reaction, her name was like a bullet. Colin jumped at the sound with enough force to crack into the doorframe, drawing out a wince from Kiera. The poor man was far too big to be doing that, and it was her fault. He remembered after all. Maisie's recrimination was lost to Kiera, completely drowned out as it was by Colin's stare. Once upon a time Kiera had been skilled at communicating without words, to Colin and Granny and a few of the others. She hadn't been as quiet as Colin, or as monosyllabic as Windell, but there were stretches there at the worst of things when her voice went unused for days at a time, rusting away to her own satisfaction. She tried to channel some of that now with her eyes on Colin, her smile turning more lopsided and wry. 'Yeah.'

The moment was broken by Brody, of course, calling Colin and others into the kitchen to help. Colin looked like he'd seen a ghost as he offered his apologies and moved away, but it was the glance back afterward that really broke Kiera's heart. Maisie, dear Maisie, somehow knew to turn the knife. Maisie remembered the name Devlin, too. Lord, what had Kiera done to Colin if even his sister tiptoed around it? The bitter truth was that she hadn't thought about it at all before she left, and after it had gotten easier and easier to rationalize. They'd forget, they'd move on. Who could possibly care that she'd vanished? Finally an answer to that, and it turned Kiera's stomach. Something must have shown on Kiera's face, at least enough for Maisie to offer her reassurances, and give Kiera's hand a gentle squeeze. Between Maisie and Duncan and Nell and Kermit and Ezra it was suddenly too much and too crowded and how could she answer any of these introductions? Kiera had resolved to tell no lies, to let people see her if they chose and live with how things went, but how did one accept condolences for themselves? There had not been a manual for this.

Kermit, of all people, managed to drag her out of the spiral before it dragged her too far away, prepared as he was to tackle Nell bodily in search of a hug. It got a laugh out of Kiera, anyway, and she offered a wave to everyone assembled before heading toward the kitchen with Maisie and Duncan. "That's kind of you to say, Maisie. It seems I’ve missed quite a few things. I wish the visit had been under better circumstances, too.”

When they entered the kitchen Brody was marshalling the kitchen with a skill Kiera hadn't expected. Had he been that good when they were younger, or was it a skill he'd picked up during the years between then and now? The kitchen was getting crowded between Strays and Innes's alike, but Kiera didn't have a chance to pitch in before Colin and Duncan swapped places, leaving her with Colin and Maisie and no earthly idea what to say. It was Colin, hands wringing, who asked the question she couldn't manage, and she nodded briskly. Maisie's reaction brought out another wince from Kiera, though. Maisie Mae she might be, but Kiera could remember a few less flattering nicknames the younger woman had managed to acquire when they were kids, largely by dint of being unable or unwilling to keep her mouth shut. Inflicting Colin's life with gossip was probably an unkind thing to do today of all days, but there didn't seem to be much way around it. "Of course, Mr. Innes. After you."

It was only a few steps down the hallway to Colin's bedroom and only a moment more to close the door behind them. It was probably not the best for propriety's sake, but Kiera would challenge anyone to find a way to have a private word in a full Stray House otherwise. As it was, Kiera could already see in her mind's eye a pileup of Innes kids and Strays pressed with their ears up against the door. Privacy was an almost impossibility to find here. Pushing the others out of her mind left her with the reality of Colin looking down at her, his face still red from scrubbing. She opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated, mouth closing with a soft hiss. Instead she stepped past him to the bed and sat down, putting her head in her hands.

"Colin, I..." What could she say? What could justify it? Did he know, or just suspect? What did he need to hear, and what did she need to say? Kiera sighed, straightening up and wrapping herself in a hug. This was not the first time Colin had seen her in a dress, something that had been embarrassing to admit at the time, but rarely in her life had Kiera ever felt so exposed. Maybe she should have been like Nell and came back dressed in all the city's finery with what jewelry and cosmetics she had to her name instead of a plain black dress that wouldn't have been out of place at work. Lord, she was like a nerve rubbed raw. "I'm sorry," Kiera said, finally, the words wrenched from her throat with effort. "I'm..." That other name, the old name wouldn't come, was deader than dead, couldn't be conjured by seance or dismissed through exorcism. "It's me. I think you know that. Hope you do, anyway. Pretty sure I introduced myself to you years ago, officially." New York bled from her voice as she spoke, replaced over the course of a sentence with the softly muddled Tennessee twang she'd picked up from her childhood flight west and the years spent in the holler. Maybe they should have gone to the river for this, but it was too late for that now.

"I shoulda said something. Written. Anything other than disappearing, I guess. But things were complicated and I didn’t plan them out and after I just had to run.” She dropped her arms to her lap to fiddle with her ring. It was an engagement ring, even, silver band set with an emerald, new to Colin but old enough that it predated her years in the holler. She’d had to run for that reason and others. There hadn’t been a life she could see in Tennessee. “I missed you, Colin. More than I can say.” Heart and voice alike broke. ”God, I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”
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Last edited by Syne; Feb 10th, 2024 at 09:55 PM.
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