Asking Questions

Here is a little scene based on a word prompt from the WriYe DreamWidth (goldfish).  It’s set before my November NaNo.  Gilbert is seeking advice on Ilya’s little problem…

**

The last time that Gilbert had seen them, they were leaping from one bowl to another.  At the time, he’d tried not to wonder why someone would want to train goldfish to leap out of hot water.  He’d also tried not to think about what had happened to the fish that hadn’t taken to the training.  Instead, he’d gone about his business.

Now, he frowned at Dr. Beaumont as she walked over to the river with the bowl.  Two fish swam in circles around the bowl.  They seemed to know that something was about to happen.  “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Ah, Dr. Schneider,” she said, as she dumped the bowl – along with the pair of goldfish – into the river.  “How is your little project going?  I have heard that you’ve added to your… collection.”

Gilbert nodded.  She’d utterly ignored his question.  That wasn’t unusual.  He ignored Wolfie when he asked questions about things he wasn’t supposed to know.  That reluctance to answer alone served as something of an answer.  “I’ve got three more… Chorus members,” he said, using the code word that the Agency had given him to use when referring to people housed in the Singer units.  “I’m having trouble with one, though.”

“Oh?”

Nodding, Gilbert held out a file.  As she took it, he said, “Singer three, codename Tanner, named Ilya Putin… he’s been leaving, for lack of a better word.”

Dr. Beaumont’s eyes scanned the pages as she read quickly.  After a moment, she nodded.  “You wonder why this might be.  Yes?”

“Yes,” Gilbert said, crossing his arms over his chest.  “The Boss said you had a theory that might explain it.”

“My theory is that Ramias, Kazlauskas, and Jefferson have one thing in common,” she said.  Then, she waved at the water.  “They are goldfish.”

“Goldfish?” Gilbert said, blinking.  He shook his head.  “I don’t follow.”

“Goldfish will only grow so large,” she said, motioning with her fingers to show the average size of a goldfish.  Then, she smiled and pointed towards the river.  “Unless they live in a larger environment,” she said.

Nodding, Gilbert said, “They fit, so to speak, in the Singer unit because… it’s not any bigger than the natural body they used to have.”  When she nodded, he frowned.  “And Putin?”

“Is not a goldfish,” she said, shrugging.  “He is the carp and the goldfish bowl is too small for him.”

For a moment, Gilbert stared at her.  Then, his eyes widened.  “Most people are goldfish,” he murmured.  She smiled and nodded.  Meeting her eyes, he said, “Felicja… she’d be a carp too and Madeline.”

“Yes,” Dr. Beaumont said, grinning.  “What,” she said, “do you supposed would happen if you tried to keep a carp in a goldfish bowl?”

Gilbert bit his lip and nodded.  “We need to find a way to make his transition back to his own body permanent,” he said.  “Otherwise, he’ll die.”

“Precisely,” Dr. Beaumont said, nodding.

It was a few moments before Gilbert spoke again.  Then, he nodded and looked intently at Dr. Beaumont.  “I have some ideas.  Would you be willing to help?”  When she smiled, he took that as a yes.  Then, he started back towards the building with her trailing behind him.  “What do you do with goldfish?”

“What does your little brother do with all those ducks?” Dr. Beaumont asked, which of course, wasn’t really an answer to his question.  At the same time, it told him all he needed to know.

Dreams of Light and Shadow

This story was inspired by a picture prompt at the WriYe DreamWidth page.  The picture inspired the setting, specifically.

237201088

Taurys moaned softly as he woke. Sitting, he ruffled a hand through his hair. The sun was fully up. The day had dawned clear and bright. He shook his head in frustration. Why hadn’t anyone woken him?

He dressed quickly and headed out of his room. It took him a while before he found Gilbert and Felicja. They were at the top of the tower. Gilbert had his head bent over a notebook. He was writing diligently. Felicja was staring off at the sea. It seem usually calm.

“Good morning,” he said, waving at each of them. He sighed as Felicja glanced over at him and nodded in greeting. Gilbert didn’t even react to his voice. He was completely focused on his work. He shook his head. “Why’d you let me sleep so late?”

Felicja shrugged. “The doc said that it was better to let you wake on your own,” she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You looked like you were dreaming when I checked in on you. I didn’t know you could dream.”

“Just like you, it’s every night,” Taurys said. He closed his eyes. Usually, he dreamed of swirling, formless colors. Last night had been different. He’d dreamed about being in a glass room. A light was at the center of the room and it pulled steadily – going dim and then brightening.

As he remembered the dream, he realized that he’d been dreaming about being in a lighthouse. That wasn’t surprising, since they’d arrived at one the day before. Taurys leaned back against the window behind him. He frowned. Something had been bothering him for a while and this seemed like a good time to ask about it. “What’s the Agency’s obsession with lighthouses, anyway?”

“What?” Felicja said, turning to face him. She was smiling faintly and Taurys got the impression that she was amused. “What obsession?”

“Two different bases – this one and the Egg – have lighthouses on them,” Taurys said. He frowned and added, “Three, if you count the Watchtower.” He shrugged. “It’s also on our badges.”

When Felicja shrugged and turned away, Taurys heaved another sigh. “With this place and the Watchtower it at least makes sense. The Egg is a floating island. What’s the lighthouse meant to be warning people away from.”

That got Gilbert’s attention. He looked over at Taurys and shook his head. “Lighthouses don’t warn ships away from the shore,” he said, his voice soft. “They’re a beacon, to show the safe passage through the rocks.”

Felicja nodded. “The lighthouse on the Egg is meant to help Agents find it,” she said, shrugging. Her brows furrowed. “The League of Nations and the International Intelligence Agency, as part of it, is meant to be a light in the darkness, guiding people who are lost safely home.”

“That’s why it’s on our badges,” Gilbert said, nodding.

For a moment, Taurys stared at them. Then, he smiled and looked out at the water. It was deceptively calm, but there were rocks out there, he knew. The lighthouse guided ships through the treacherous waters. As agents, the were meant to do that for those who were navigating the dangerous waters of life. “I never thought of it that way,” he murmured.

Once In a Blue Moon

This short piece is based on a word prompt (blue) from the WriYe DreamWidth.  It was fun writing something where Erik acts like a typical younger brother towards Gretchen – siblings don’t always get along, after all.  Gilbert appreciates his son’s sense of humor enough that it’s tough for him to scold Erik, even though he knows he should.

**

Erik frowned up at the sky.  Then, he looked over at his father.  “Papa,” he said, “the moon is white.”

Papa blinked and tilted his head to one side.  His expression was one of confusion and Erik felt his cheeks warm.  “It’s usually white,” Papa said, nodding.  “Well… during a complete lunar eclipse it can look red, but… what color did you expect it to be?”

Stepping over to his father, Erik shrugged.  “Greta said it was going to be blue,” he said.  His cheeks burned hotter when Papa began chuckling.  “It’s not funny, Papa!”

“I’m sorry,” Papa said, as he struggled to keep laughing.  He sighed and hugged Erik.  “You misunderstood, Erik.  A blue moon isn’t actually blue.  It’s the second full moon in a solar month – the third full moon of four in a season.”

“Oh,” Erik said.  He stepped back and frowned up at the moon.  It would have been really neat for it to actually have been blue.  “Why do they call it a blue moon?”

“Language is a funny thing,” Papa said, shrugging.  “The word didn’t used to be ‘blue’ – but a word that sounded similar and actually meant ‘betrayer’, because it was usually the full moon that fell in the spring and the fasting season would be over, but… it’s not.  Right?”

“There’s another month yet,” Erik said.  Then, he nodded understanding.  “So… people felt betrayed by the full moon?”

Papa nodded.  Then, he looked up at the moon.  “It can, actually, look blue sometimes,” he said.  “That can happen when there’s a lot of dust in the air, like from a volcano.”

For a moment, Erik just stared at him.  Then, he smiled.  “That,” he said, “would be even more rare than a second one in a solar month.”  He chuckled softly and said, “That’s how often Gretchen’s right.”

Papa bit off a chuckle and ruffled his hair.  “Be nice, Erik,” he said, but there wasn’t any real anger in his tone.

Laughter in the Rain

This story was written using a picture prompt from the WriYe DreamWidth.  I’ll put a little warning that it deals with some touchy issues regarding character death.

**

Ivan Petrov was dead.  There was no doubt about it.  He hadn’t simply disappeared, only to reappear when they all least expected it.  Neither had he contracted an illness and left government work.  If that had been the case, they could report that he’d died when he’d really just been pushed into a hospital somewhere.

There could be no doubt of his death because it had been so public.  The president had been in the middle of a speech.  News agencies were filming it, to air later.  There, in the background, stood the main government building.  It had once been the royal palace, but when they’d overthrown the royals, they’d changed it into the headquarters for the government.

Just as the president had stepped forward – before he’d even greeted the gathered crowd – a body plunged from the roof of that building.  Members of the press had gasped in shock.  Some people had even screamed.

Taurys watched the film with a mixture of shock and some other feeling he couldn’t quite identify.  Then, he looked at Arthur.  “Petrov?” he said, his voice faint.  “They’re absolutely certain that was him?  It’s not some sort of trick?”

Arthur shook his head.  “Our sources have confirmed it,” he said.  “Ivan Petrov is dead from an apparent suicide.”

Nodding, Taurys moved to his feet.  “Thank you for letting me know,” he said.  He moved to the door of the office.  He was dimly aware of Arthur speaking – asking if he was all right.  He wasn’t even sure that he answered as he headed down the corridor and out of the Agency building known as the Castle.

When he stepped out into the pouring rain, he realized what the emotion was that was mingled with shock.  A laugh bubbled up and mixed with the tears that stood in his eyes.  A sound between a sob and a laugh escaped his lips.  “He’s dead,” he breathed.

Taurys-rain

He looked up at the clouds and held out his arms.  “He’s dead,” he screamed into the rain.  Ignoring the stunned looked he was drawing from passersby, he laughed and shook the rain from his hair.  “Thank you, God.  Petrov is finally dead!”

Someone called his name and he whirled around.  Gilbert was standing on the steps of the Castle, an umbrella clutched in his hands.  He was blinking at Taurys and frowning slightly.  “You’re… happy that he killed himself?” he said.  He flushed and then shrugged.

As Gilbert came down the steps to stand beside him, Taurys shook his head.  He couldn’t keep the smile off his lips.  “Petrov didn’t kill himself,” he said.  He chuckled and shook his head again.  “He’s not the sort.  That – that was an assassination – a bold assassination.  There, in full view of the press and the president and the rest of the government.”

“Who?” Gilbert breathed, his eyes widening in shock.  He shook his head.  “Who would do something like that, Taurys?”

Taurys ruffled his hands through his wet hair.  “We called him the Lynx, because he would strike quickly and without warning,” he said.  Then, he gave Gilbert a playful wink.  “You might know him as Nicholai.”

Gilbert blinked.  “How do you know it’s him?” he asked, shaking his head.

Shrugging, Taurys said, “That’s what he’d do, Gilbert.  He’d lure the target to a convenient rooftop and then knock them off.”  He stepped closer to Gilbert, so that he was shielded by the umbrella, although it hardly mattered.  He was already soaked to the skin.  “Let the director think it was suicide, though.  It’ll be easier on Nicholai that way.”

Nodding, Gilbert moved towards the door.  Taurys followed him as they stepped inside.  “Get changed into something dry,” he said.  He flashed a smile at Taurys.  “You can’t catch a cold, but it won’t do The Singer any good to be cold and wet for too long.”

“Right,” Taurys said.  He headed towards the locker room in the basement, whistling a happy tune.  A few years ago, he would never have believed that Petrov could be killed.  Wherever Nicholai was, Taurys hoped that he was well and safe.  He knew, with Petrov gone, that things would change in Veligrad.  It was only a matter of time.

Sing Me to Sleep – 2

This is another part of “Sing Me to Sleep”, which answers another WriYe DreamWidth Prompt, but there’s a gap between this section and the previous one.  The prompt answered was the word, Jewel.

**

Gilbert stopped and picked up a large white stone that was carved in the shape of a bear.  He held it out to Taurys.  “This is a bit harder than the stones we were using last time,” he said.  “It should be harder to crush.”

“That’s… a symbol of the Snow Father, Gilbert,” Taurys said, hesitant to take the stone bear from him.  He didn’t want to break a religious symbol.  That was so much worse than crushing simple garden stones.

A faint smile touched Gilbert’s lips.  “Think of it as added incentive,” he said, shrugging.  He nodded when Taurys held out his hand, palm up.  He set the stone bear in Taurys’s hand.

At first, Taurys simply let the bear rest on his palm.  Then, after a bit of coaxing from Gilbert, he began turning it over in his hand.  He blinked as he managed to hold it with just enough force to keep from dropping it, without breaking it.  “I’m doing it,” he breathed, tears welling in his eyes.

“How are you feeling right now?” Gilbert asked, his voice soft.

Taurys blinked and wiped away a tear from his eye.  “Happy,” he said, shrugging.  “Surprised.  Why?”

“Part of getting a handle on your emotions is identifying them,” Gilbert said.  He leaned down to look into Taurys’s eyes.  “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  It’s all right to be happy and surprised, but… you don’t want to cry about it.  Right?”

“Right,” Taurys said.  He took a few deep breaths and, after a few moments, he felt calmer.  He was still happy that he could hold the stone bear without crushing it.  He didn’t feel the pricking of tears at his eyelids anymore.

Gilbert smiled at him.  “If you start to feel your emotions overwhelm you, take a moment to think about why you’re feeling that way,” he said.  “Take a breath and try to relax.  It’ll take time, but you’ll get there.”

“Thank you,” Taurys said.  He set the stone bear back in its place in the garden.  Then, he brushed off his hands.  “Do you have any more of those stones with words on them?”

“I’ve got little ornamental jewels inside,” Gilbert said.  As they headed back inside, he said, “While you practice picking them up and holding them – roll them over in your hands, switch them from one hand to the other – I’ll boil some eggs for our lunch.”

“Hard boiled eggs should be easier than raw ones,” Taurys said, nodding.  He grimaced.  “I need to stop at the market on the way home to get more eggs.  I had a disaster preparing breakfast.”

Gilbert chuckled softly.  “When we’re making lunch, the trick will be to break the eggs without crushing them,” he said, nodding.

Taurys sat down at the dining room table.  As he began playing with the jewels that were in the bowl, making up the centerpiece, Gilbert headed into the kitchen to boil some eggs.  “Why did you make this body so strong?” he asked.

Shrugging, Gilbert said, “I was ordered to – so that they could use you as a field agent.”  He heaved a sigh and shook his head.  “People keep saying they want peace, but… that’s not going to happen until we stop thinking in terms of making better weapons than our enemies.”

“So, that’s all I am to them?” Taurys said, frowning.  “A weapon?”  He felt the jewel in his hand crack and took a steadying breath.  As he released the frustration that had been growing, it was easier to grip the jewel without breaking it further.

Gilbert shrugged.  “To them, maybe,” he said.  Then, he gave Taurys a weak smile.  “To me, you’re a person and a friend.  You’re a father to Milda and a husband to Daina.  You are so much more than just a weapon, Taurys.  Keep that in mind.”

Sighing, Taurys nodded.  “I will,” he said.  By the time lunch was ready, Taurys could manage to hold the jewels without crushing them.  Gilbert had been exactly right when he said it would be tricky to break the eggs without crushing them.

He made a mess of the first two eggs he tried to peal.  By the third, he’d figured out how much force it took to break the shell without ruining the egg inside.  When the girls came inside, he was happily breaking the shells off the eggs, while Gilbert mixed them into a salad.

“Do you want help, Papa?” Gretchen asked, as she went to the sink to wash her hands.

Gilbert smiled faintly.  “Why don’t you make some toast and then set the table?” he asked.  “This is part of Taurys’s therapy.”

“Therapy?” Milda repeated.

Nodding, Gilbert said, “That’s what they call it when someone has to re-learn different life skills, Milda.  Your father is learning how to break eggshells without destroying the egg.”

“That makes sense,” Milda said, then, she washed her own hands and began helping Gretchen with the bread.

Crushing Joy to Dust

This is part of my current Camp July NaNo story.  It was inspired by a picture prompt WriYe DreamWidth.

wordsStonesTaurys frowned as Gilbert set a small pot in front of him. “Rocks?” he said, arching an eyebrow at Gilbert. “What am I supposed to do with rocks?”


“Read them,” Gilbert said. When Taurys frowned at him, he shrugged. “I’m checking your systems, Taurys. We have to make sure that everything is working as it should.”


Sighing, he looked at the stones. “Joy,” he read, his voice soft. “Peace, hope, love, wisdom, strength.” He looked over at Gilbert and shrugged. “So, we know that I can read.”


“What does hope mean?” Gilbert said.


For a moment, Taurys didn’t know what to say. “Hope is… wanting something to happen and… having the certainty that it will at the same time.”


Gilbert nodded slightly, and looking down at the device he used to monitor Taurys’s systems, said, “Please pick up the stone that says joy on it.”


Sighing, Taurys reached for the stone. He couldn’t understand the point of the exercise. The first two parts made sense, even if he thought they were pointless. This one… he frowned as he grasped the stone in his hand. He could see the cracks forming in the stone. They spread outward and, to Taurys’s shock, the stone crumbled in his hand.


“What just happened?” Taurys said, shaking his head.


Gilbert grimaced. “You’re stronger now than before, Taurys,” he said. He looked up as Felicja bounced into the room. “Hey,” he said.


“What are you doing?” she asked.


“Crushing my joy,” Gilbert said, shrugging.



 

The Depth of a Dream

This little story serves two purposes.  It’s the “except” for my July Camp NaNo story and the answer to my last NaNoWriYe DreamWidth prompt for the month of June.

**

Prompt: torn

Taurys had been so certain that is was what he’d wanted a month ago.  There had been no doubt in his mind.  Now, though, he couldn’t seem to escape from the uncertainty of it all.  A part of him was still firm in the resolve that this was the right thing to do.  He was torn between that certain resolve and the fear that it was wrong to tamper with nature in this way.

As he stared down at the body on the table, he chewed his lip.  Gilbert had done an excellent job in recreating his natural appearance.  He felt like he was staring down at his twin brother.  The figure had the same dark, tidy hair.  He had the same shining green eyes.  His complexion was the same, even.  Only the height was different – his new form was much shorter than his original form was.

Sighing, Taurys glanced over at Gilbert.  The scientist was hard at work on something.  “What more are you doing?” he asked, even though he knew Gilbert couldn’t hear him in his current state.  He glided over to peer over Gilbert’s shoulder.

The smaller man was frowning as he worked on something on the workbench.  It looked like nothing more than a tangle of wires to Taurys.

“What’s that meant to do, Gilbert?” Madeline asked, her voice as soft as it always was.

Gilbert answered without looking up from his work.  “It’ll help me monitor his systems,” he said.  He grimaced and added, “Provided things work the way they should, that is.”  He glanced over at his wife, then.  “Is he still here, Maddie?”

“I’m right here,” Taurys said, rolling his eyes.  He chuckled when Madeline nodded.  He knew that she could hear him, even if she couldn’t see him.  “Is this the right thing to do?” he said, his voice soft.

“Gilbert thinks so,” she said, shrugging.  Then, she smiled at her husband.  “He’s nervous about the morality of the whole thing.”

Gilbert shrugged.  “He… You were murdered, Taurys,” he said, shrugging.  “I’m just trying to give you back what was taken from you.  I don’t see how that can be wrong, but… it’s up to you.”

Taurys nodded, even though neither of them would know that he had.  “Thank you, Gilbert,” he said.  “I’ll decide soon.”  He smiled when Madeline relayed the message.  Gilbert nodded once and then got back to work.

A Restful Pastime

I wrote this story yesterday, but it was late enough that I couldn’t get online to post it.  This was another tough one… I stared at this picture and struggled to figure out what to write about it.

Prompt 42

Gretchen was busily knitting while her brother spent time with his friend, Henryk.  The two boys spent a great deal of time together, especially now that they were all in the same class.  She heard them chuckling and laughing and looked up from her work.

They were kneeling on the floor with an open box of crayons and a large piece of cardboard.  She watched as Erik and Henryk piled the crayons carefully, like they were building one of those cabins out of the log toys.  The thing was, they were using plain old, regular crayons.  Somehow, though, they were getting them to stay together.  Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“How are you doing that?” she asked, waving at the tower of crayons.

The two boys blinked at her and then Erik began chuckling.  “We put glue on them, Greta,” he said, showing her the side of the crayon.  Now that he’d said it, she could see the dish with a pool of glue that was sitting between them.

“Why are you building a log cabin out of crayons?” she asked, shaking her head.  “I mean… you won’t be able to use those crayons for anything else, you know?”

Henryk shrugged.  “It’s for a school project,” he said.  Then, he began dipping the flat ends of the crayons into the glue and standing them up in rows going away from the cabin.  “We’re building a model as part of a project in history class.”

Erik nodded.  “We were going to use the log blocks, but then… Henryk said there were more crayons in the box than block in the package,” he said.  He smiled.  “It’s also pretty cool, because the crayons are smaller.  It changes the scale of the model.”

“We’re going to paint them when we’re done,” Henryk added, as he continued standing crayons on end.  “This is the forest, in case you were going to ask.”

“I knew that,” Gretchen said, as she turned her attention back to her knitting.  She shook her head slightly and then frowned at her brother.  “Whose crayons are those, Erik?” she asked.

Erik blinked at her and then smiled.  “We bought them for the project, Sister,” he said, his tone sweet.  Then, he chuckled softly.  “You didn’t think we’d use your crayons, did you?  We wouldn’t do that without asking your permission.”

“Right,” she said.  Then she shook her head and looked back at her knitting.  For some reason, it was very hard to focus on her knitting.  Why did her brother have to be working in the living room with his friend?  Couldn’t they go in the kitchen?  When they began painting – laughing the entire time to each other – she took her knitting and stomped out of the room.

“Jealous?”

Gretchen frowned at her father.  “Of Erik?” she said, frowning.  “Why should I be jealous of him?”

“I didn’t say you were jealous of your brother, Greta,” Papa said.  He crouched down slightly and leaned in close to meet her eyes.  “I figured that it was Henryk you were jealous of.  Until this year, Erik has always partnered with you, right?”

Gretchen opened her mouth to protest and then stopped.  She blinked and flushed as she realized the truth.  As much as it annoyed her that Erik always came to her for these things, it had made her feel… important.  Now, she felt like he didn’t need her anymore.  He had Henryk.

“I want him to have friends,” she said, scowling.

Papa nodded and patted her shoulder lightly.  “You will always be his sister, Gretchen,” he said, his voice gentle.  “Always remember that.”

A Matter of Vision

This was another one of those prompts that I got an idea for the moment that I saw it.  This story is set during my upcoming Zombie July Camp NaNo story.    Here is the picture:

prompt-40

“I can’t find anything wrong with the optics,” Gilbert said, shaking his head. He sounded puzzled. For some reason, Taurys found that really unnerving. The scientist seemed to pick up on that somehow. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious,” he added.

“I should be able to see perfect,” Taurys said. Gilbert hummed and he heaved a sigh. “I can’t,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Everything’s blurry. It’s like I’ve forgotten to put on my glasses, but… you said I shouldn’t need glasses.”

“You wear glasses normally?”

Blinking, Taurys nodded. “Contact lenses for work, but… yeah,” he said, his voice soft.

Gilbert hummed thoughtfully and left the room without saying a word. When he returned, there was another person with him. Until Taurys heard her speak, he couldn’t tell that the visitor was a woman.

She handed a pair of glasses to Taurys and said, “I’m called Matcher. Why don’t you see how these work?”

“All right,” Taurys said, blinking. He lifted the glasses up and looked through the lenses. Outside, he could see the field filled with little yellow flowers, some of them gone to seed. “Dandelions,” he said, as he settled the glasses on his face. He blinked up at Gilbert.

“You can see now?” he said, smiling. When Taurys nodded, he patted Watcher on the shoulder. “Just as I thought. Thanks, Shannon.”

“No problem, Gilbert,” Watcher replied. Then, nodding at Taurys, she slipped out of the room.

Taurys frowned. “What’s wrong with my optics, then?” he said, shaking his head.

Gilbert shrugged. “Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. When Taurys looked doubtful, he shrugged. “It’s psychological. You expect to need glasses, so… you do. That’s how your brain was trained to perceive the world.”

“Lovely,” Taurys said, rolling his eyes. At least when he’d needed glasses before, there was actually something wrong with his eyes. “It’s all in my head.”

“The mind is a powerful thing,” Gilbert said, shrugging.

Only in Daydreams

I had such fun answering this prompt from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out and I’ve gotten away from the dark stuff I’ve been writing the last few days.

Prompt: Strangers

“My goodness,” Mama said, her voice soft. “Don’t you look like the fine young gentleman?”

Erik heaved a sigh and pushed a lock of hair behind his ear. “Are you going to take pictures of us before we head out?” he asked. She always had. He didn’t know why this year would be any different, except that it was in so many other ways. They would be starting secondary school – a new school, with kids they didn’t know – and Papa was home.

“Of course,” Mama said. She waved him towards Gretchen and said, “Stand with your sister.”

Gretchen was wearing one of her new skirts and Papa had a look on his face that made Erik wonder if she’d make it out the door. However, Papa surprised him by finally sighing and kissing her on her brow.

“Papa,” she said, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes. “We’ll be back not too long after you get home. We’re just day students.”

“I know,” he said. He smiled and then looked over at Erik. “I’m just… you both look so grown up!” He stepped back, so that Mama could take several pictures of them from different angles.

Then, Gretchen was hurrying out the door. She paused on the front steps just long enough to put her skates on. Then, she was leaving Erik behind. He didn’t bother yelling after her. She wouldn’t have listened anyway.

“Worried?” Papa said, his voice soft.

Erik heaved a sigh and shrugged. “I won’t know anyone,” he said. He bit his lip and dropped his gaze to his shoes. Gretchen would make friends within moments of entering the school. It wasn’t so easy for him. He was too shy of strangers to talk to them.

“Henryk will be there,” Papa said.

That was unexpected. Erik looked up at him sharply and smiled. “Really?” he said, his voice faint. When Papa nodded, he laughed softly. “I better get going or I’ll be late.”

“Try and have fun, Erik ,” Papa said, waving to him. As Erik hurried out the door, he said, “Before you know it, you’ll be graduating. These days go by quicker than you think.”

Erik blinked at his father’s words. Then, he nodded. “I’ll remember that, Papa,” he said, his voice soft. He put on his own skates and then he hurried off towards the school. He would do his best not to let his shyness get the better of him. In seven years, he would be graduating.

Papa had been gone for seven years and Erik had heard his father say, more than once, that he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed. “I’m not going to miss a moment,” Erik breathed. He’d take each person as they came. A stranger was just a friend he hadn’t made yet.

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