I lean against the clay wall for about an hour thinking about the events of today and the different ways I went wrong. How I could have done things differently. How I should have done them differently. Watching her run up the stairs back to Geha almost tore me apart, but I won’t let my pain keep me from doing what I can to make sure everything is prepared if she does come back tomorrow. It’s a long shot, especially with how badly I messed up, but I can’t handle the thought of that being our last moments together. The anxiety over whether she’ll come back at all is more than enough for one person right now.
Kicking off the wall, I go straight out of the Boiler room towards Landow. I start out at a brisk walk, but I’m sprinting within minutes. The air that whips past me while I run clears my head a little and calms my nerves. What normally takes over two hours to travel, takes me around an hour and a half to traverse. I’m exhausted and out of breath, but I make it to the village without passing out. Years of hard labor molded my body well enough so running is difficult, but I’m able to sustain a decent pace the whole way back.
Town is bustling and noisy from the return of the workers. Everyone is preparing for a night of celebration. Every night is a celebration when no one is killed by a Loyal trying to get people to work harder. Work faster. I would normally be a part of the festivities, but I have other things on my mind right now. Maneuvering my way in between the massive amount of people populating the main street, it almost takes me longer to reach Micah’s hut than it did to get back to Landow. Unlike me, he doesn’t usually partake in the parties that will go on for several hours, well passed when the sun has left the sky.
I make sure to catch my breath before knocking. I don’t want him to think that anything is wrong. He’s always been able to read me like a book. Shaking out my limbs, I step up to the door and listen for movement. Someone is taking their time walking throughout. Breathing deeply, and trying to look as normal as possible, I rap my knuckles against the wooden door again – in the same fashion I had earlier in the day. It takes a few moments, but Micah opens the door and welcomes me with a smile.
“Ryder, my friend,” he greets, giving me a hug. “What can I do for you? I’m surprised you’re not out with the rest of the village drinking and celebrating. Finding some woman to court and lay with.”
“Not feeling up to it tonight,” I say, giving him a courtesy chuckle for his comment. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Come in, come in,” he waves, ushering me inside. “I’m almost finished making a stew for tonight.”
“A stew?” I ask, following him into the hut and shutting the door behind me. “You make the best rabbit stew. When did you find time to hunt?”
“I set a trap out this morning,” he informs me, stirring a small pot hanging over a small fire to the left side of the room. “Picked it up on my way back from the Orchards. You better be joining me for dinner. I made way more than enough for myself the next few days.”
“Happy to,” I grin, sitting down on a wooden couch off to the right of the hut. It has a bed of hey on top so it isn’t so hard to sit on. I rub the back of my neck with my right hand, debating how exactly to bring up his sister.
Silence ensues. It’s a little awkward, but it looks like it’s only me. Micah is focused on making the stew. He takes a small pot off a shelf to his right, and throws a pinch of seasoning into the pot, as steam rises from its contents. I watch him work his magic while my head swirls with the different ways to tell him who I’ve been helping the past couple days. The bubbling of the stew in the hanging cauldron above the fire practically hypnotizes me. Though the stew should have taken at least another half an hour to cook, it seems like Micah is putting a full bowl of steaming grub in my palms in seconds. The day has really taken a toll on me if minutes are going by like seconds.
I take the spoon within the bowl and push the contents around, trying to cool off the meat, carrots and potatoes faster. It smells good, but I have no appetite. All I can think about is Alora. What is she doing? Where is she? What is she thinking about? I keep mixing the stew in my bowl, like maybe if I stir it long enough it’ll show me a vision of her.
“So, what’s up, Ryder?” Micah asks, chewing on a bit of meat. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I fib. “Why would you say that?”
“You’ve been unusually quiet tonight, mate,” he points out, taking another big spoonful of stew into his mouth. “And you haven’t touched your stew.”
“I, uh,” mumble, hesitating. With a sigh, I take a spoonful into my mouth, savoring the flavor before swallowing it. Delicious, as usual, but I’m not sure it’ll stay down.
“That wasn’t very convincing,” he chuckles.
“It’s just been a strange couple of days,” I admit. “I can’t seem to fully wrap my head around it yet.”
“Tell me about it,” he offers, leaning over so his elbows are on his knees. He continues eating bites of stew as he listens, scraping the bottom of the bowl.
“I don’t think you’ll believe me if I tell you,” I laugh. “I still don’t believe it.”
“Try me,” Micah insists, setting the empty bowl on the table to his left.
“Well,” I begin, slowly. “I’ve been spending time with your sister.”
“What?” He asks, incredulously. “I never told anyone I have a sister.”
“She came into the Boiler room yesterday,” I inform him. “She surprised me, busting into the pipe room. She was asking a bunch of questions about Unfavorable and stuff. I mean, she looks just like you, mate.”
“How did you find out about my sister?” Micah inquires, almost accusingly.
“She was looking for you,” I affirm. “She said she had a brother named Micah that disappeared six years ago. That and the fact she looks like she could be your twin…I just put two and two together. I know it’s weird, I still can’t believe it. You taught me how to read and right when you became Unfavorable. We’ve been friends for years. I wouldn’t do anything to mess with you or someone that could even potentially be related to you. And the odds were better than great that she is.”
“You can’t let her come back here, Ryder,” Micah stresses, standing and pacing around the room.
“It’s not like I had a choice in the matter. She just kind of showed up.”
“It’s not safe for her outside Geha.”
“I, uh, actually brought her here today…”
“You, what?!” He yells, turn on me. “You didn’t.”
“Yeah, I did. She wanted to see you. She wants to know what happened to her older brother, and I felt for her.”
“I bet you did,” Micah mutters, going back to pacing.
“What does that mean?”
“Just that you probably courted her like you have every other girl in this village.”
“I wouldn’t do that to your sister, mate.”
“I bet. Don’t bring her here again, Ryder. She doesn’t belong outside the walls.”
“She’s not a little girl anymore, Micah. She isn’t the little girl you remember from when you became Unfavorable. Even if I told her not to come back, I guarantee that she will anyway, because she is going to do whatever she wants. Neither you or I can stop her.”
“Just get out,” Micah growls. “Get out of here you ungrateful mongrel.”
“Wow,” Ryder breathes. “I thought you’d be happy to see your sister after six years without her. Sorry for trying to do something nice for you.”
Rage driving me, I slam the bowl – still over half full – on the table and stomp out of the hut without looking back. I go left back towards the middle of the village, towards my own little hut closer to the market. I don’t stop walking until I reach my place and smash the door shut behind me, almost splitting the wood into pieces.
How could he accuse me of using his sister like that? I know I haven’t been the most honorable man when it comes to girls, but he should know I have much more respect for him than that. Knowing Alora and her fiery personality, there’s no way she would even allow me to play those kind of games with her. And I wouldn’t want to. I could have any woman outside of Geha that I want, but I didn’t even try to court her. None of them even compare to the way Alora makes me feel.
I hope against everything that is good in this world that she comes back tomorrow so that I can make up for everything today. So that, maybe, my world can be turn right-side up after how messed up everything has been. If she does come back tomorrow, I’m not going to take advantage of it. It could be the last time we see each other, and there’s no way I’m going to let it be negative in any way.