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Coming Home

Night leaned against the window. It was a struggle, but he kept his eyes half open. The car was humming softly. It was a like a lullaby and a rocker all in one. With a blanket pulled up to his chin, held up with a clenched fist, he certainly felt like a baby. If he had been more awake, he’d have stirred into a less vulnerable position. He settled for a scowl. The heat was starting to get to him. He felt his eyelids begin to droop further, but he lacked the energy to fight it.

Fauna looked back at him in the rearview mirror. A small smile crossed her face. The innocence in this boy’s face was jarring. She turned left off of Main St, deciding against waking him. Zeke and Denvai had already been dropped off at home, but Fauna reasoned that there was no harm in driving around Willow Creek a bit so Night could rest. She grew tired just thinking of his fatigue.

A small voice came from the back seat, “Where are we going?”

“Where do you live?” Fauna smiled back at him.

Night suppressed a moan, straightening up and glancing out the window. It was long past dark, and a light drizzle ran down the glass.

“You know that little convenience store?”

Thinking, Fauna nodded, “The one on Dell and Pine?”

“You can just drop me off there.”

Another nod, and the car made a U-turn. Night slouched in the seat, fingering the velvety fabric underneath him. The rain grew heavier, and Night’s frown grew deeper. Despite how close he held Fauna’s blanket, the cold sensation of dread brought shivers and a cold sweat to his skin.

It’s okay, he tried to tell himself, there’s an overhang in the back by the dumpster, and if you get hungry…

Fauna slowed the car while Night’s heartbeat quickened, and when it came to a stop, he gulped. He was suddenly and painfully aware that he lacked a jacket. Fauna turned in her seat expectantly. Night met her eyes briefly, but turned away in a hurry. He glanced outside once more, eyeing the small building through the haze of rain. He hugged the blanket to his chest, then remembered with a sinking feeling that it wasn’t his to take. He set it down on the seat beside him like a fragile being, his eyes flickering back to Fauna’s. Her face was different now, her expression unreadable. Her vibes made him uncomfortable; he closed them off. One more somber glance at the lightly crumpled blanket and a silent prayer, then he reached for the door handle.

A click made him jump. The lock on the door had been set. He turned to Fauna for an explanation, but she made didn’t so much as look at him. She pulled out into the road and made a right turn, shaking her head. Night felt sick, slumping against the seat once more but saying nothing.

The ride was a bit longer than expected. Night pushed his feelings down and stared out the window. It was too dark to see much and he didn’t recognize any of the streets anyway. Every now and then, he stole a glance at Fauna in the mirror. Her jaw was set. He wondered if she was mad at him, but forbade himself from Feeling to be sure. She probably is, he reasoned with himself. Maybe she saw you almost take the blanket.

He scowled now. What a stupid move. Impulse, maybe. Forgetful, no doubt. But stupid. What would he do with a blanket?

He knew exactly what he’d do with a blanket.

A whimper threatened to escape him. He leaned his forehead against the cool of the glass, eyes closed. He wondered where they were going. He refused to let himself ponder over it almost as soon as the thought arrived. Thinking was dangerous. He was at the mercy of Fauna. He felt like a child again. His stomach felt worse. Fauna wouldn’t hit him…?

He pulled the blanket over himself again, partially covering his face just in case she could somehow see the tear fall down his cheek. I don’t wanna die…I just wanna hurt and that’s all…

Under the blanket, he ran his fingers along the fresh cuts on his forearms. New tears pooled in his eyes; these ones hurt. Maybe I do wanna die…

“Oh no…” Fauna gasped, slowing the car.

Night shot up, wiping his tears defensively, “What?” His voice was thick.

“Nothing… just a bump in the road…” She frowned as she continued on past the mansion – or what was left of it.

Night frowned. He didn’t feel any bumps.

This time he couldn’t help it. Her Feelings came rushing in at him. Despair, and a lot of others. Night cowered back.

“I’m okay…” he mustered.

She said nothing.

He spent the car ride in silence, dozing off again against his own will. He was in the middle of a dream where he’d found a book all about Vivian when he was shaken awake. He pried his eyes open. His first feeling was of anger and regret at not being able to read all her secrets. The next was terror mixed with anxiety and, surprisingly, hunger.

“We’re home,” Fauna’s voice was softer now.

Night sat up and yawned, returning to his eternal frown. Home? It was anything but the mansion.

“Come on,” she urged.

Night was too tired to protest. He clambered out of the car and followed her, watching as intently as he could in his drained state. She stood at the door of a small cottage, fumbling with her keys.

“I can’t believe it.”

Night hesitated, “Believe what?”

“That I kept these keys all these years. Must have known deep down I’d need to come back someday,” she said with a sigh, turning the key in the lock.

The door opened inward. She reached around the corner and flicked on the light, “And that I kept paying the bills for a house I didn’t live in…”

Night blinked and followed her inside. She walked in farther, setting her bag on the abandoned couch. Night stood in the doorway, glancing around.

“So many memories here…” her voice was dreamy. Night felt invasive.

Fauna walked over to the stone fireplace, swiping the top of the mantle with a finger, “Needs some major dusting, but it’ll do. We’ll be comfortable here.”

Night glanced at the floor then back at the door. He still had the blanket wrapped in his arms. He turned back and watched her make her way around the kitchen, “We’ll need to buy food, I’m afraid. We can do that first thing tomorrow.”

Night frowned at her casual use of the term ‘we’. There was no ‘we’.

“And you.”

Night’s head shot up when he registered he was the only other person she could be talking to.

“I can’t believe you thought I’d leave you there…”

Night opened his mouth to protest, but no words came.

“How could I live with myself? Young thing like you… just leaving you all alone. Why, I’d be no better than them.”

Night wondered who them was.

“You’d die.”

“I wouldn’t die, “he found his voice.

“Yeah, you would,” she faced him now, just inches away. Night tried backing away from her. She reached her hands up his shirt and felt along his ribs. He jumped; her hands were cold, “Malnutrition. It’s a wonder you lasted this long, and I doubt you have any immune system to speak of whatsoever.”

“I do,” he argued feebly.

She rested her wrist against his forehead, “You don’t.” She brought her hand down and ran it along the slash on his jawline. Glancing down at his wrists, she breathed, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“But I—“

There was no arguing with her, he realized. It was Fauna’s way, or… Fauna’s way. He wasn’t used to it being anyone’s way.

She led him down the hall to the bathroom. It was a good size considering the overall footage of the place. She set the toilet seat down, “Sit.”

Night obeyed, keeping the blanket in his lap. She opened the cupboard across from the mirror, revealing more medical supplies than any sane person needed.

“Let’s see if I can find something that’s not too far past the expiration date…” she muttered as she rummaged through the mess. Night eyed her. She turned with a bottle of peroxide and caught his look, “I told you I used to work as a doctor…?” Night’s expression sobered a bit. She settled.

Kneeling to be at eye level with him, she took his chin in her hands as he tried to avert his gaze, “Hold still.” She let go long enough to wet a cotton swab then held it again, “This might sting.”

Instantly, Night’s eyes widened and he pulled away.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she looked devastated, “I should have known… It doesn’t hurt much, I promise.”

Night didn’t look convinced. He’d been told lots of times that something didn’t hurt. Broken ribs. Tell me it doesn’t hurt…

Fauna sighed, “Please, it’s quick. It’ll get infected, and that’ll hurt worse.”

“Good,” he said darkly.

She set her jaw again, pulling his forward a little less gently and bringing the swab to it. He winced.

“Don’t move…”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“It hurts…”

“You’re making it worse by moving.”

“How would you know?” his eyes were wet with tears.

Fauna sighed, grabbing his left wrist, “Can I ask you a question?”

Night said nothing.

“Why do you do this?”

“Do what?”

Fauna bit her lip, dabbing the cuts, “You know what.”

Night was quiet a moment, “I like it…”

“I don’t understand…” she switched arms.

“It hurts so good…” a tear threatened to spill.

She shook her head and stood, “These need to breathe overnight.”









***********************


“This is your room.”

Night stood still, saying nothing.

“Adrian and I were going to turn it into a nursery eventually, but…” she took a shaky breath, “I guess it’s more convenient the way it is, huh?” she turned to see his reaction.

He stood placid, unmoving. He eyed the bed, holding the blanket closer. How could he sleep here? He didn’t belong here. He was becoming a bother, just like he’d feared. This was her home. Adrian’s home. And this was their baby’s room. Not his. Not his…

“It’s late. We have a lot to do tomorrow,” she paused, “If you’re up for it.”

He glanced at her questioningly.

“Food, clothes for you, cleaning—“

“You’re not buying me clothes,” He looked at her angrily.

“Night… you have what’s on your back right now. You need more.”

Night glared.

“Well, I guess it can wait. Maybe something of Adrian’s…”

“That’s worse.”

Fauna looked him a long time, “Oh…”

Night blinked.

She took his hand and led him to the bed. He sat when she sat.

“It’s not much now,” she admitted, “but we’ll personalize it up a bit as we go.”

He looked away, “No.”

Fauna frowned, “No?”

“That’s what I said,” he held the blanket against his chest.

“Why no?”

“No…” he flopped back against the pillows, flinging the blanket over him to hide his face.

She took a deep breath, reaching under it to stroke his hair, “I know you’re scared—“

He pushed her hand away, “I’m not!” His voice was muffled, from the blanket or tears, she couldn’t tell. He turned and curled himself into a ball, “And you’re not my mother, so stop pretending you are! I don’t need a mother,” he held back a sob, “I don’t need anybody…”

Fauna frowned. She lay next to him, pulling the blanket away from his face. He covered it with his hands. She reached out and combed his hair with her nails. He flinched at her touch but gave no other protest. She pressed her face against the back of his neck. He could feel her breath on his skin. It was warm. He clenched his eyes shut tighter.

“Tomorrow morning we’ll go out and buy some things to wake this ratty old place up,” she cooed, “Maybe we’ll stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way there for breakfast. That’ll be easier.” She brought her hand to his check. He flinched, “You ever had a donut?”

Night shook his head.

“Geez…” she stoked his cheek, “No donuts, no cupcakes…”

“No ice cream,” he piped in, his voice a whisper.

“No ice cream… We’ve gotta fix that...”

He nodded.

She released a long sigh, “We’ll buy some of each, how about that? Some chocolate, some strawberry, some—“

“Vanilla,” he mouthed quietly.

“And vanilla, of course,” she smiled, “But we can’t eat just ice cream. We’ll have to get some real food too, like—“

“Peanut butter?”

“Hmm,” she massaged his scalp through his hair. Slowly, he grew less stiff, “I was thinking more along the lines of—“

“Macaroni and cheese?”

She chuckled, “Maybe.”

“He brought me some once.”

Fauna frowned, “And you liked it?”

“Kinda,” he admitted, “He spit in it.”

Fauna’s stomach lurched, “That’s not very nice…”

Night shrugged, “It was nice for him.”

She ran her nails lightly over his jawline, “We’ll have something much nicer than macaroni and cheese tomorrow.”

“Like what?” He yawned.

“Hmm… Do you like pork chops?”

“I dunno.”

“Yeah, we’ll have pork chops tomorrow night. You can have your macaroni and cheese with that, alright?” she felt him nod against her, “And maybe some broccoli…”

“That’s a lot of food.”

She smiled sadly, “It is, isn’t it?” He nodded again, “And we’ll have to get some stuff for lunch and breakfast, too.”

“People really eat three meals a day?”

“…Yeah?”

“Every day?”

“Usually…”

“That’s a lot.”

“We’ll get some bagels, and some waffles. We’ll get pancake batter; I can teach you to make pancakes. What kinds of cereal do you like?”

“I don’t know.”

“Right… Well, we’ll get a few. What you don’t eat I will. Maybe we’ll get some snacks, too.”

“Snacks?”

“Yes, for munching. You know, in-between meals.”

“You can do that?”

Fauna chuckled, “We’ll get some chips, some fruit—“

“I like apples,” he offered.

“Yes, we’ll get apples, some popcorn—“

“Popcorn?”

“Yes, we can eat popcorn while we watch movies. We should get a movie. What kind of movies do you like?”

Night frowned, “I dunno.”

“Oh… Well then, we’ll see what’s good. Maybe we’ll get some other things, too. Like maybe curtains. These old ones are getting quite dingy, don’t you think? We’ll make this home, you’ll see. I’ll get the satellite TV turned back on so we can watch whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. Eventually some fresh coats of paint, perhaps a bookshelf for your room. Oh, you’ll need books.”

“I don’t need anything…” he whimpered.

She kissed the back of his neck, “Some new plates and glasses. I took most of them when… when I left. I don’t know the silverware situation. We’ll need towels and washcloths and dish soap. Hmm… Laundry detergent. Some things that aren’t expired,” she chuckled, “Oh! Toothbrushes and toothpaste… shampoo, conditioner, a comb, a brush—“

“That’s a lot of money.”

“Everything’s a lot to you,” she resumed combing through his hair.

“Sorry…”

“For what?”

He shrugged.

“Then don’t be.”

“Sorry.”

“Night.”

“Sorry, sorry!” he pulled the blanket over his face again.

Fauna sighed, “Relax…” She hugged him close. He resisted, and she held tighter, “I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“Whatever.”

She wiped a tear from his cheek and kissed him again. He flinched, and she held him tighter still.




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