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Still my lungs won’t expand. What if I am too late?
Lavinia is only sixteen. Surely they would not have sent her, not yet. I’m her brother. I have to warn her so that she won’t make the same mistake, so that she will be safe.
I haven’t told my family that I was coming. I thought so that they wouldn’t be able to tell anyone, that word wouldn’t leak out. I did my best to double back, change boats, lie about my age, my name, and my home. I worked boat to boat and found my way here unknown. Via and Garak may have sent word to look for me here. I didn’t want to give them any warning or any way of finding me.
But as my feet trace the familiar route up the steps worn smooth with age, I pause and look towards my home in the upper city. I realize it isn’t to hide my coming and keep my family safe that I sent no word. It is because I’m not sure I can face them again. If they don’t know I’m here, I can still leave.
My fists clench the oiled skin of my travel bag so tightly it cuts into my hand. Stay. Go. I don’t want this. I don’t want any of this: the uncertainty, the indecision. It was easier when choices were made for me. But they were wrong too.
I turn to head back to the wharves of the lower city, just for a drink and to think this through. I realize I really am going home when I wince at the idea of my father smelling spirits on my breath. Wearily, I trudge upwards.
The house is the same: iron railings and cream walls. It has only just been over a year and a half. Of course it is the same. But it feels different. Maybe Lavinia isn’t here?
I hesitate outside, uncertain how to enter my home that isn’t my house. Then Tosha sees me and lets out a shout. Surprisingly, it is a relief to be recognized in a friendly way.
Lavinia, my dear sister, is in my arms first. My mother next. Father greets me first with a handshake and a half hug like he would his brother or cousin, like I am a man. I’m grinning in relief, but can barely look him in the eye. I see his hand instead, how it now rests so familiarly on the cane. I watch how his limp is now a common gait rather than the stumble it had been when he was ill, when I was kept home for those few months to help rather than sent to my apprenticeship.
My jaw muscles twitch as my hand clenches. I look away. Sooner would not have saved me, I don’t think. I have to warn Lavinia.
She rattles on with barely a breath. “I didn’t know you were coming. Why didn’t you say? Is your ship here then? What luck! Oh Ty, I’m so happy to see you. How long are you here?
“Yes, son. How long?” Father’s voice is slow and wistful.
“A few days is all. I managed to get a few days of leave.”
“You’ll be here for the solstice!”
Lavinia hugs me again. My mother directs my rooms to be opened.
“Ria’s coming. It will be like before you left. Oh Ty, you’ll have to tell me about your apprenticeship. Is your boat big? Where have you gone?”
“Have you seen the Archipelago? The Southern Shore?”
“I said later.”
I don’t mean to say it so harshly. Lavinia freezes, a startled look on her face. Mother and father exchange glances. Our mother touches Vin’s arm.
“He is tired, honey. You can talk later. Let him rest.”
Color comes back to Vin’s cheeks. She nods and darts forward to kiss my cheek before dancing off.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how tired I was. I’ll just go.”
Their smiles are so understanding. Anger bursts inside of me. What do they imagine they understand? Not me. Not what I’ve done or what they caused by sending me to that ship.
Mother’s touch is gentle, her kiss on my cheek a feather. I fall still under my father’s hand on my shoulder.
“We are just happy to have you home, son.”
It is all I can do to make it to my room without shouting. I’m still staring at the familiar windows when the heat subsides in me. I don’t remember my room being so small.
I mean to tell Lavinia tonight, but at dinner there is wine and extended family. I forgot how many visit for the ceremony. The words to pull Lavinia away do not come. And the next time I turn, Ria is at her side.
In the sea of my dark-haired family, Ria shines like the sun with her golden curls and green eyes. She is pale and quiet, not like normal. She is not the silly girl racing at my sister’s side. I hug her in greeting and she holds me tightly back, her heart beating like a hummingbird in her breast. She smells of summer fields: oranges and grass. I could hold onto her forever.
Ria brings back memories of times I had forgotten. I thought such memories gone forever, as I hadn’t remembered laughing or feeling so light for such a long time. The night dances away with Ria as its partner. I let it take me along. There will be time to tell Vin later.
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