That Red Dress

This story was inspired by a picture prompt from the WriYe DreamWidth.  The dress reminded me of the sort of pencil skirts they wore in the 1950s… so my mind went to this universe.  Felicja and Ilya are such a fun couple…

**

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Ilya looked up as his wife stepped into the room.  Her sandals clicked on the tiles as she moved across the room.  He whistled at her between his teeth and grinned when she stopped to frown at him.

“That’s a look I could never pull off,” he said, shaking his head.

Felicja smirked and crossed her arms over her chest.  “I might let you try… later,” she said, arching her brows.

Henryk looked between his parents and then shook his head.  “There is just no safe place to go with that,” he said, glancing over at his sister.

Zofia chuckled.  “No,” she agreed, “there really isn’t.”

Ilya rolled his eyes and reached out to ruffle his hand through Henryk’s hair.  “Can’t I compliment your mother on her dress?”

“Sure, you can,” Henryk said, shaking his locks back into their proper position.  “Just… you know, we don’t need to know about what happens behind the closed bedroom door.”

“We know enough, actually.  We can do without the details,” Zofia clarified.  She bounced to her feet and beckoned to her brother.  “On that note… we’re off to school.”

“You kids behave,” Henryk told them, as they grabbed their jackets and schoolbags and hurried out the door.

Felicja leaned back on the kitchen counter and smiled.  “The kids are off to school,” she said, arching her brows.

Laughing, Ilya leaned up to kiss her lightly on the mouth.  Rubbing a finger against her cheek, he said, “Tempting though that sounds… we need to be off to work.”

Wild Weather…. Whirlwind Emotions…

Here is a scene that I wrote for my NaNo that was partly inspired by a word prompt (wild) from the WriYe DreamWidth.  Please don’t think that this is the way Felicja usually acts.  She’s just a bit emotional right now.  (However, it was such a departure from her normal character that it was fun to write.)

**

Ilya moaned softly as he woke. He rolled over in bed and frowned to see that he was alone. “Felicja?” he called, sitting up. “Where are you?”

She stepped back in from the next room and then pointed outside. “Would you look at that?” she said, her voice taking on a hard edge. She sat down heavily and then snuggled back under the covers. “Look at that snow, Husband!”

Frowning, Ilya grabbed his glasses off the nightstand and settled them in place in front of his eyes. He blinked at the window. In the early morning light, he could see the fields beyond their home blanketed in white. That wasn’t too surprising. He slipped out of bed and padded over to the window. Behind him, Felicja grumbled about how she didn’t want to have to deal with the mess alone.

He looked down towards the walk. The night before, it had been clear. Now, it was covered. He blinked and looked at one of the nearby walls. “We must have gotten a foot of snow overnight,” he breathed. Then, he realized that it was still coming down. No wonder Felicja was in a tizzy. Such wild weather was uncommon in Sarmaci.

He shook his head and then returned to her side. “Would you like for me to stay home with you today?” he asked, his voice soft. “I just have to write my report from our last case. I can do that here and send it by courier.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she nodded. “Two weeks until year turning,” she said. Then she waved out at the snow. “How are we going to get the greens hung with this going on? I don’t want it, Husband!”

Then, quite unexpectedly, she was sobbing and burying her face against his bare chest. He flushed when he heard the door opening. He had just enough time to cover both of them before Henryk peered inside, blinking sleepily.

“Why’s Mama crying?” he asked around a yawn.

“Because women sometimes become emotional when they’re getting ready to have babies,” Ilya said, as he hugged Felicja gently. “She’s not happy because the snow ruined her plans for the day.”

Henryk nodded and then rubbed at his eyes. “It’ll be all right, Mama,” he said. He yawned again and added, “We’ll help decorate when the snow stops.”

“A-all right,” Felicja said, as she tried to quiet her sobs. When Henryk left, she gave Ilya a watery smile. “We have such good kids,” she said. Then she was sobbing again.

Ilya heaved a sigh and continued to hold her until she finally quieted. Then, he kissed her brow and grabbed his robe off the foot of the bed. He pushed his feet into slippers as he drew the robe closed around his body and tied it in place. “I’m going to call Cedar and tell him that I’ll work from home,” he said.

Sweet Dreams?

I found a prompt online, “Children are in bed, you’re reading a book in the living room.  You suddenly feel a prickle of skin – someone is watching you. What happens next?”  That, along with the word prompt “moon” from the WriYe DreamWidth inspired this scene…

**

Felicja settled the children down to sleep.  Henryk had been especially difficult.  He was convinced that there was some sort of monster in the root cellar.  Felicja shook her head slightly.  She wished he hadn’t found the trapdoor at all.  No matter what she did, he couldn’t be convinced that the only thing down there was dust and old bottles.

She settled down in front of the fire with her knitting.  It was the first they’d ever actually lived in a house.  Maybe that was why Henryk was so nervous.  Their apartment hadn’t had a basement or root cellar with access to the living area.  The basement was down a flight of stairs – out of sight, out of mind.

Felicja began working on the half-finished sweater.  Soon enough, it would be ready to be packed away for their birthday.  Then, she could get started on Zofia’s present.  She’d knit a dress for her daughter.  It would be something pretty and suitable to wear for special occasions.  Zofia needed something like that.

She frowned as the hairs on the back of her neck prickled.  Without pausing in her knitting, she lifted her eyes and glanced around.  She expected to see one of the children peering into the room.  She saw nothing.

“Just my imagination,” she breathed.  Shaking her head, Felicja set her knitting aside.  Henryk’s crazy talk about the root cellar was rubbing off on her.  She stood and headed into the kitchen.  The rug was undisturbed.  She knew, beneath it, the trapdoor was firmly closed.

Heaving a sigh, she set one of the kitchen chairs on top of it.  Then, she headed to her bedroom.  She would read until she fell asleep.  She couldn’t focus on her knitting if she was going to jump at every noise.

Felicja settled on the bed and turned on the radio, keeping the volume low.  Then, she lifted the romance book off the nightstand and began to read by the light of the full moon.  By the time her eyes grew heavy, all thought of monsters in the root cellar were gone.

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.”

Crystal Visions

This story came from the prompt of “Snow” from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth.  It was… interesting.  I wasn’t sure where I’d go with it until after I’d begun writing it.

Henryk trudged through the snow, dragging the sled behind him.  He was going to be meeting his friends, Leonas and Erik.  Leonas had just moved into the area and Henryk knew things had been difficult for him.  Besides being in a strange country and attending a new school, which were challenging enough, he was from Veligrad.  Too many people in Berlyn were immediately distrusting of anyone from that land.  It didn’t seem to matter to them where in Veligrad he was from or why his family had left.  They heard that he was from there and assumed that he was trouble.

He heard someone call his name and looked up.  Immediately, a smile touched his lips.  “Hey, Leo,” he called, waving to the other boys.  He broke into a run, his sled whispering over the snow behind him.  As he drew near, he skidded to a stop and smiled.  “Hey, Erik!”

“Hello, Henryk,” Erik said.  He tugged his hat down lower and then pointed towards the park.  “We can sled right from here, I guess.”

“I don’t have a sled,” Leonas said, sounding a little embarrassed.  He sighed and then shrugged.  “We left so quickly… I didn’t…” he trailed off and ducked his head.

“Don’t worry about it,” Henryk said.  He waved at the sled on the snowy sidewalk behind him.  “Zofia and I can fit together on this one.  I figured that we could ride together.”

Leonas smiled warmly and nodded.  “All right,” he said, his voice soft.

“Front or back?” Henryk said, as he dragged the sled up on top of the snowbank.  He smiled as Erik positioned his own, smaller sled next to Henryk’s larger one.

“You should steer,” Leonas said, shaking his head vigorously.

Henryk nodded and settled on the snow.  Once Leonas was settled behind him, he lifted his feet and they started down the slope. Erik followed in their wake.  Henryk smiled as they flew down the hillside.  The light reflected off the snow, making it sparkle like diamonds.  By the time they reached the base, he was cheering excitedly.

They slid to a stop and Leonas tumbled off and climbed to his feet.  “That was great,” he said, rubbing at his cheeks with his hands.

“Where are your mittens?” Erik asked, looking back up the way they’d come.  “Did you drop them?”

“I just have these,” Leonas said, shrugging.  He held up his hands, to show the thin gloves he was wearing.  “Mama’s making me a pair of mittens, but she hasn’t finished them yet.”

Henryk nodded and then, as they started up the hill, he said, “It must have been scary, having to leave in the middle of the night and everything.”

Leonas shrugged and then nodded.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Papa hasn’t said what happened – at least, not to us kids.  He might have told Mama.”

“Parents think it’s less scary if we don’t know stuff,” Henryk said, shrugging.  He thought about how he’d felt when he’d learned what Mama did for a living and chuckled.  “Sometimes, it is.”  He glanced over at Erik .  “I know I worry a lot more about Mama, now that I know she’s not just some typist in an office.”

“Me too,” Erik said, nodding.  His brows furrowed as they reached the top of the hill once again.  “What are your parents doing for work, Leonas?”

“Mama’s been working as a maid in this really nice house,” Leonas said, frowning thoughtfully.  Then, he shrugged.  “Papa works in a factory.  They’re the only ones that would hire him.”

“A lot of the kids at school… their Mamas don’t work at all,” Henryk said, shaking his head.  “I think they don’t realize how lucky they are.”

“We do,” Erik said.  Then, he shook his head.  “Enough with this gloomy talk.  We came out here to enjoy the snow.  Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Leonas said.  He grinned at Henryk.  “Can I try steering this time?”

Henryk grinned and then nodded.  “Sure, Leo,” he said.  Soon, they were zooming down the hill once more.  For a while, they were all able to forget about their fears and just be children.  Snow seemed to have that effect, sometimes.

Sleep for the Winter

The photo prompt I used for this story (from NaNoWriMo’s DreamWidth) was a bit of a challenge.  However, I like the interplay between Zofia and Henryk.

The Dogs Are Ready for Winter

Henryk frowned at the pink and purple hat.  Then, he looked over at the gray and blue hat that his sister was just finishing.  “Why do they have holes in them?” he said, putting his fingers into the hole that was just above one earflap.  “Did you mess it up?”

“No,” she said, frowning.  She tied off the braid that came down from the earflap of the hat she’d just finished and took the other hat from her brother.  “The holes are for their ears, silly!”

For a moment, Henryk was just staring.  “Whose ears?” he said.  As she flounced – that was the only way to describe the movement – out of the room, he fell into step behind her.  “Zosia, who are the hats for?”

She smiled and then set the hats on the side table, while she pulled on her coat and mittens.  Then, she hurried outside.  Henryk rolled his eyes and shrugged into his own coat.  He was just stepping out onto the porch when his sister reached the neighbor’s yard.

“Zofia,” he said, his voice strained.  “That’s not… what are you doing?”

Ignoring him, Zofia stepped up to the smaller of the neighbor’s golden retriever dogs.  She settled the pink and purple hat on the dog’s head, carefully pulling the dog’s ears through the holes above the earflaps.  She gave the larger dog the blue and gray hat.

“There,” she said, as she stepped back to admire her handiwork.  “Now, these dogs are ready for winter!”

Henryk sighed.  The larger dog looked confused.  His smaller companion seemed to be glaring.  As Zofia turned around and headed inside, he shook his head.  Looking at the dogs, he said, “Should I tell her that the earflaps are rather pointless, seeing as they’re meant to keep your ears warm and… that’s not going to work if your ears come out above them?”

The smaller dog barked and shook his head, knocking the hat askew.  His larger companion snatched the hat off his head and ran.  Barking again, the smaller dog took off after her, as if he actually wanted to wear a pink and purple hat.

Sighing, Henryk headed back into the house.  “It’s probably a really good thing that the ground squirrels hibernate,” he murmured.  “She’d be making sweaters for them otherwise.”

“Is Zofia having fun with her crochet?” Mama asked, not looking up from her knitting.

Henryk grimaced.  “You’ve created a monster,” he said, nodding.

Flights of Fancy

This is a little scene depicting Ilya spending time with his children.  He didn’t meet them until they were eleven years old.  It was inspired by a photo prompt from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth.

I tried to do a little research on kite flying when I was writing it.  My only experience with actually flying a kite didn’t end well.

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“I’m no good at this,” Henryk said, as he followed his sister and Ilya out to the large open field. Ilya frowned slightly and he shrugged. “Mama took us to fly them a few times, but… all mine did was crash.”

“I’ll see if we can’t get your kite flying,” Ilya said, his voice soft. He glanced over at Henryk. “If you find, after giving it a real try, that you aren’t having fun, we’ll just go and get ice cream.”

Henryk frowned at him and then sighed. “All right,” he said, finally. However, he couldn’t seem to muster any enthusiasm. He didn’t know how to get the kite into the air. No matter how steady the wind was – even when people all around him were flying kites, his always stayed stubbornly grounded.

When they reached the field, a few other people were already there with their parents. Some people were having picnics. Others were playing catch. A few were holding the ends of long lines, as their kites soared high overhead.

“I’ll help you first, Henryk,” Ilya said, his voice soft. Henryk had noticed that he always spoke softly. Then, he looked at Zofia and smiled. “Once we’ve got Henryk started, I’ll help you.”

“All right, Papa,” Zofia said.

Ilya gave her a smile and ruffled her hair. Then, he took Henryk’s kite. “You hold the line, with the wind blowing onto your back,” he said. As he marched out into the field, Henryk scowled. This wasn’t how he’d ever launched a kite. Weren’t you supposed to run with it?

As Ilya turned to face him, he said, “Take the slack off the line, Henryk. Then, draw it in as I release it and it should climb.”

Henryk nodded. He did as Ilya said. As soon as the man raised the kite and Henryk saw him release it, he began winding the line in. His eyes widened as the kite slowly rose higher and higher. “It’s flying,” he breathed.

“Do me, do me,” Zofia said, bouncing up and down excitedly.

Ilya ran to them and smiled at Henryk. “Keep a close eye on it. If it starts to tug too much walk forward a bit. Don’t let it get too high,” he said.

Henryk nodded, his eyes going back towards the kite. Beside him, Zofia was laughing as Ilya helped her get her kite airborne as well. A moment later, Ilya had returned to their sides. He talked them through how to get the kites to do loops and twirls in the air without getting tangled or crashing.

Finally, Ilya said, “Is that the time?” He sighed.   “Let’s get them down,” he said. He caught Henryk’s line and said, “Hold it still and I’ll walk your kite down.”

“Yes, sir,” Henryk said, blinking. He watched, in amazement, as Ilya walked down the line, slowly drawing the kite towards the ground. As he reached the end of the line, where the kite was, he plucked it out of the air and turned to face Henryk. He motioned with his hand in a circular motion.

Nodding, Henryk began winding the kite’s string up once again. When he was finished, Ilya repeated the action with Zofia’s kite. Only when both of them were holding their kites, did Henryk notice that there were tears in Ilya’s eyes. “Why are you crying?” he said.

Ilya shook his head. “It’s foolish of me,” he said. “I just… I was remembering my father teaching me how to fly a kite, when I was just the age you are.” He shrugged. “Never mind,” he said. “Let’s get some ice cream.”

“Thanks, Papa,” Zofia said, catching his hand in hers.

Henryk hesitated for a moment, before taking Ilya’s other hand. “I’m not sure how long it’ll be before I’m comfortable calling you… Papa,” he said. Then, he smiled faintly. “But I think you’re a good guy. Thanks for teaching us how to fly the kites.”

“You are very welcome, Henryk,” Ilya said, his voice soft.

A Knitter’s Nightmare

Today, I got to write a story using the very first prompt I ever saw from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth.  At the time, I knew the story was going to be about Felicja in some way.  I had a lot of fun with it.  This is something that anyone who has knitted can relate to…

Prompt: Tinkering

It was a nice, quiet night.  Felicja was sitting by the fire in a rocking chair, her latest project in her lap.  Henryk was sitting on the floor, reading a book.  Not far away, Zofia was brushing her doll’s hair as she spoke softly to it.  Ilya watched his family with a bemused expression on his face.  He had dreamed of nights like this one when he was younger, before he’d ever joined the Agency or heard of Ivan Petrov.

The tranquility was broken by a grumbled curse.  “Felicja?” he said, blinking at his wife.  “Is something wrong, my love?”

“I don’t have the right number of stitches,” she said.  Her tone was one of annoyance.  “It’s not going to come out right and I didn’t put in a lifeline at the end of the last repeat.”  She was tracking back now, reading her work as she searched for her mistake.

She cursed again and Ilya suppressed the urge to smile.  “You found your mistake?” he said.

“Ten rows back,” she said.  Then, she began the work of carefully knitting back to the error.  Shaking her head, she said, “This – this is why they call me ‘Tinker’!”

“Does that mean that you’re tinkering?” Henryk asked, as he looked at his mother over the top of his book.

Ilya stifled a laugh and turned back to his newspaper.  He had everything in his life that he’d ever hoped for.  His wife, he knew, felt like she was in the middle of a nightmare.  However, once she’d gotten back to where she was now and had the correct number of stitches, she’d be just as happy as he was.

Dreamers – part 11

I’m having so much fun with the prompts from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth.  My story has take another unexpected turn.  I know this thing with Marian’s brother is going to come up again.

(Prompt: Alone)

Marion frowned slightly as he strode into the banquet hall. Most of the other agents were married, or at least were dating. The young lady on his arm was not any sort of paramour for him.

“A bit young, isn’t she?” someone said.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Marian turned to glare at the speaker. “Walker,” he said. Waving at Camelia, he added, “This is my niece, if you must know.” His brow twitched as he struggled to school his features. “Her father, my brother, passed away… suddenly. You might recall.”

“He’s being decorated posthumously,” Reader said, her voice soft. She gave Camelia a weak smile. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Albescu. Your father was a great man.”

Camelia nodded slightly, but she didn’t say anything. Marian gave Reader a wan smile. “Thank you,” he said, his voice soft. He spotted Gilbert and then sighed as he noticed that the Schneider children were there too.

“Come on, Camelia,” he said, his tone gentle. He guided her towards Gilbert and Madeline and said, “I want you to meet some friends of mine.”

“Yes, Uncle,” she said, her voice faint.

It broke Marian’s heart to see her this way. He was hoping that seeing other children might help raise her spirits a bit. Her mother had died when she was very young. Now, Nicholai was gone too and she was alone.

“Hey, Gilbert,” Marian said, his tone full of forced cheer.

Gilbert whirled away from Singer and Tinker and frowned at him. “Marian, hey,” he said. He glanced at Madeline and tilted his head slightly to one side as he looked back at Marian. “Are you all right?”

Marian gave a weak laugh. “Peachy,” he said, shrugging. He heaved a sigh and then arched an eyebrow. “You hear of that transport accident?”

When Gilbert’s brows furrowed, Marian knew that he hadn’t heard anything of it. The science agent turned to his wife. “Maddie?”

“It happened about a week ago,” she said, her voice soft. “You had just come back from the Mushroom and you’ve been in your laboratory since you got back.”

Singer nodded. “I heard about it,” he said, his voice soft. His brows furrowed. “They were saying it might have been pilot error… that he got disoriented in the fog?”

“Papa didn’t crash the plane,” Camelia said, her voice cracking. She hiccupped and then buried her face in Marian’s chest, sobbing.

Marian blinked and then hugged her, a bit awkwardly. “They… My brother was the pilot,” he said, shrugging. He bit his lip and squeezed his eyes closed against the tears that were suddenly threatening.

To his surprise, Tinker drew Camelia into an embrace. “It’s all right, sweetie,” she said, her tone soothing. “You’re allowed to cry about things like this.” Then, she frowned at Marian. “You’re holding up all right?”

“Bereavement leave,” he said, shrugging. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped at his eyes. Then, he looked at Singer. The other agent was looking chagrined now and he shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Singer,” he said. “That’s what the preliminary findings were pointing at.”

“They have new data, then?” Gilbert said, blinking.

Marian nodded. “They just finished analyzing the in-flight voice recorder,” he said. “It was sabotage. Nicholai said… that the controls weren’t responding properly. He could steer, but he couldn’t slow down. He fought to keep the transport in the air as long as he did… so that they crashed into an unpopulated area.”

“That’s why you’re here, then,” Madeline said. When Marian nodded, she gave him a weak smile. Then, she waved towards her children and Felicja’s twins. They were crowding around Camelia, chatting and exchanging hugs.

“They know each other?” Marian said, blinking.

Nodding, Madeline said, “Nicholai sent her to Camp Whip-poor-will for the summer?” When he nodded, she shrugged. “We did too.”

Marian heaved a sigh. “Well… hopefully, it’ll do her some good, seeing some familiar faces,” he murmured. He shook his head and then gave Gilbert a weak smile. “How’s it going with your investigation? The… dreamers?”

“We were going to try to contact them tonight,” Gilbert said, glancing at Madeline quickly. When she nodded, he heaved a sigh of relief. Then, he frowned at Marian. “Did you want to help? I know… you used to do séances when we were at school.”

“For All Hallow’s Eve,” Marian said, flushing. “That was… just for fun. This would be serious.” Then, he looked at Madeline and shrugged. “I’ll help, if you think I’ll do any good.”

“I’d be more comfortable with five people participating,” Madeline said, her voice soft. Her brows furrowed and she looked at Gilbert. “Four isn’t a good number.”

“There you go then,” Gilbert said, shrugging.

Singer nodded. “Daina can keep an eye on the kids,” he said, glancing toward the group, which now included his daughter as well.

I was born at night…

I’m having so much fun with the prompts from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth.  This is another picture prompt.

prompt-12

Zofia looked over her brother’s shoulder and frowned at what he was drawing. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the image. It was a bird with a long, skinny beak that was hovering over water.

“Hummingbird,” he said, without looking up from the image. After a moment, he added, “They’re small and they fly very quickly. The live on nectar.”

“Like bees?” Zofia said. Her brother made a sound of affirmation. Nodding, Zofia settled down across from him. She set her elbows on the table and then rested her chin on her hands. Her brother colored the image and chuckled softly as he wrote a little message next to the bird. “Who’s Papaya?”

“What?” Henryk said, as he covered the words with his hands. “No one. It’s just a picture and – and Papaya isn’t anyone.”

“Brother, we were born at night,” Zofia said. Locking eyes with him, she added, “But it wasn’t last night. I can read and I’m a fool.”

Flushing, Henryk heaved a sigh. “It’s a nickname,” he said, shrugging. Then, he focused back on his work and said, “No one you know.”

“Camelia?” Zofia said. He had no reaction, so she tried another name. She listed every girl she knew, both from school and from summer camp. Then, she started listing the boys. Henryk didn’t react to any of the names. He didn’t so much as flinch.

Then, she said, “Johannes?”

“Leave me alone, Zosia,” Henryk said, his voice cracking.

“Birds in their nest agree,” Mama called from the other room.

Zofia stifled a laugh and bounced to her feet. “Sorry, Henryk,” she said, as she headed off towards her room. “I’ll leave you alone now, so you can finish your birthday picture for… Papaya.”

Henryk made a sound that might have been a stifled growl. “It’s not Johannes,” he said, as she headed for the doorway.

Shaking her head, Zofia paused. She turned and looked at her brother. “I wonder… do you give all your friends fruit nicknames.”

“Zosia,” Henryk said, his tone strident, but soft. Neither of them wanted their mother to come into the room and scold them for arguing.

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