“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
Darid 1, 1513 – River Sulis, Lothianshire, Albion
“Mama!” Raven tried to ignore her daughter for a moment as she juggled two bottles of hard cider and a plate of rarebit around the chair and onto the table. “Mama, he’s doing it again!”
“Is he still wearing clothes?” Raven asked cracking the cap off the bottle on the table.
“…Aye.” Anna-Marie said from her place somewhere behind Raven’s left shoulder.
“Unless he’s naked or the house is on fire, mama isn’t home right now, baby.” She handed the bottle to her companion with a sigh.
“Don’t chew on my dolls, Johnny.” Anna-Marie scolded. Johnny made a petulant whimper.
“Share your toys, Anna-Marie.” Raven told her without looking as she cracked open the second cider.
“Mama’s not home right now so I can be mean to my brother.” Anna-Marie told her smartly, before giving a little humph. “Here, take this one, you already chewed on it.” Raven shook her head and looked at Sara-Beth who was leaning back in her chair as if her back hurt. It probably did, if Sara-Beth was anything like her, her feet hurt, her back hurt, her shoulders and arms hurt. The nuns had run them both since before dawn that morning.
“Little brothers.” Sara-Beth took a long draw off the cider and sighed.
“Yours driving you nuts again?” Raven asked, taking a drink herself before settling the bottle between her knees and squirming down a little further into the chair.
“He told me last night that it’s better for him to quit school and start bringing in money before I work myself into an early grave than for him to keep on with his schooling.” Sara-Beth shook her head, a few more strands escaping her crown braids and falling into her face.
“Well, not to side with Darin, but you do sorta look like shit warmed over, SB.” Raven shrugged. Sara-Beth looked past her shoulder at the kids on the floor. “Don’t worry about it, they’re my kids. Nobody can yell at me.”
“Except your husband.” Sara-Beth pointed out.
“Okay, Eric can yell at me. But he won’t. I yell back and I’m louder.” Raven grinned at her friend. Sara-Beth’s smile was tired. She was only a couple of years older than Raven was, but right now the gap seemed larger. It only made sense though. Raven was lucky, while her mum and dad were up in Avilion, they were still both alive, she had sibs and so did Eric they could ship Anna-Marie and Johnny off to when they got to be too much or they just needed a holiday. With what Eric’s carpentry shop brought in, she could afford to take less hours at the hospital.
Sara-Beth’s parents and her step-father were all dead and she only had Darin, who pitched in as much as she would let him, but if Sara-Beth was anything, it was pig-headedly stubborn, and so as much as she would let him was not nearly as much as he was willing to do. Raven snuck a glance at Sara-Beth’s profile.
“I want him to get that education. Why doesn’t he understand that?” Sara-Beth sighed and drew another long swallow.
“Because he’s a boy.” Raven offered. “Even Anna-Marie knows at her age that boys can be dumb as rocks sometimes.” Anna-Marie giggled. “Seriously, though, Sara-Beth, you raised a good kid there. Good kids are not likely to sit on their thumbs when they can be doing more to help. And he wants to help you.”
“Well, he can help me more sticking it out one more year, getting his education finished, and getting a job doing something that pays well.” Sara-Beth picked up a toast corner and nibbling it.
“I don’t blame him for wanting out of there. He has to put up with Brother Loki every morning, I’d rather be stuck on morgue duty in high summer during a plague than have to face him very often.” Raven shrugged and reached for a toast corner herself.
“I could understand if his reasons were something like that.” Sara-Beth told her. “I wouldn’t let him quit, but I could understand. No, he wants to quit because of me. I am giving him a chance that not a lot of people get and he’s trying to throw it back in my face.”
“Oh, woe is you. You have a brother who cares about you. Who doesn’t want your gift of education, room, board and et cetera at the expense of your health. Whatever shall you do?” Sara-Beth looked at her sourly. “Most people can’t do it all on their own.”
“Well, I don’t have anyone to fall back on.” Sara-Beth said.
“Oh, do not.” Sara-Beth scowled. “Raven, I do not need the hassle of a love-affair on top of everything else.”
“What hassle, Sara-Beth?” Raven asked.
“Besides I don’t have enough time to sleep where would I find enough time for a romance?” Sara-Beth leaned back in her chair with a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh.
“And you wonder why your brother wants to quit school.” Raven pointed out ruthlessly.
“Besides, guys aren’t exactly lining up around the block with roses for me. As you, yourself, pointed out, I look like shit warmed over.” Sara-Beth was perfectly capable of being equally ruthless back.
“I know somebody who’d love a chance with you, as long as you’re still breathing he’d take you back.”
“Raven, no, no. No.” The other woman folded her lips. “And a couple more nos for good measure.”
“Sara-Beth,” Raven began.
“No. What’s between Reggie and me is in the past. It’s history. And as the priests like to quote Father Hugh as having said “those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” I like to think I’m smarter than that.”
“Sara-Beth, he loves you. He still loves you. He’ll love you when you’re both old and gray and crippled up on canes. No matter how many busty, beautiful women come in the intervening time.” Raven bit her lip. If Raven had been in possession of a magic wand that she could wave and suddenly fix all the things that she thought needed fixing, which would probably take more power than was possessed by the Emerys and even Morgan le Fay, she would start with fixing that.
“Except neither of us will live anywhere near that long. I’ll work myself to death and his ‘work’ will catch up with him.” Sara-Beth told her bluntly. Now it was Raven’s turn to make a sour face and glare across the distance between the two chairs.
“You wouldn’t have to work so hard if you had someone to fall back on, and maybe he could get out of the business if he had you.” Raven offered.
“The only way you get out of the business is by dying, besides, in case you’ve forgotten, he “had” me once.” Sara-Beth rubbed at her hand staring straight ahead of her.
“Yeah, but he was young and dumb then.” Raven offered.
“And he’s older and still dumb now.” Sara-Beth snapped. Sometimes watching Sara-Beth was like watching someone bricking themselves into a cellar. All of those walls weren’t going to protect her, they were just going to keep people out. And maybe those were people who she would miss or people that she would never get to know, but her life would have been so much richer for having known them. Shutting everyone out shut you in. How could she not see that?
The clock over her shoulder chimed, echoed a moment later by church bells from somewhere in town, signaling that her lazy time was more or less over and she needed to put the finishing touches on dinner.
“Where’s your brother?” Raven asked, noticing that Anna-Marie was alone at the dollhouse that Eric had carved for them.
“He went to his room.” Anna-Marie told her, disinterestedly.
“And you didn’t tell me?” Raven asked looking at the door, hoping for the wood piercing gaze that her mother always seemed to have.
“You didn’t tell me you were home.” Anna-Marie smiled up at her mother. “Besides, he wasn’t naked when he went and the house wasn’t on fire.” Smart-ass. Raven thought. Of course she’d take after my side of the family.
“Why don’t you go set the table and then keep Sara-Beth company.” Anna-Marie bounced to her feet after setting the dolls away inside the dollhouse without complaint. Well, that was different than she had been, especially at Anna-Marie’s age. Raven and her sibs might have done everything that her mum had told her to do, but it was delivered with a healthy dose of whining and more than a bit of back talk.
“So how is school for you,” Sara-Beth asked.
“Kinda boring. I learned you don’t want to wear plaits to class.” Raven noted, her eyebrow quirking upward. Why would she have learned that?
“And why’s that?” Sara-Beth asked.
“Cause Romeo tied the ribbons from Gretchen and Latisha’s plaits together during religions class then dipped the end of Serena’s plait in the ink well all through penmanship.” Anna-Marie said shaking her head. “Although I don’t think Romeo would do that to me.” Sara-Beth made an interested noise.
“He pulled my hair during recess last week and you can still see the Sminese burn I gave ‘im.” Anna-Marie grinned impishly. “He might be dumb, even for a boy, but I think mama’s right and pain teaches what mamas can’t.”
“You really shouldn’t be giving boys Sminese burns.” Sara-Beth scolded.
“He really shouldn’t tie girls plaits together or dip ‘em in the ink well or pull my hair.” Anna-Marie said with perfect eight-year-old’s logic. “If some stinky boy hurts me, why shouldn’t I hurt ‘im back?” Her bright green eyes were sparked with the same light that Raven had always been told her own sparked with when she was digging her heels in for a fight.
“Well, because some boys have annoying mamas and they tattle.” Sara-Beth spread her hands.
“Romeo prob’ly would tattle.” Anna-Marie thought for a moment. “Is Romeo’s mama annoying?”
“Didn’t you set a place for Sara-Beth?” Raven interjected before Sara-Beth had to struggle through the morality of telling someone else’s daughter that yes, Romeo’s mama was annoying. In fact given what Raven would call her usually, annoying was damned near a compliment.
“Was I ‘posed to?” Anna-Marie looked back and forth between Sara-Beth and Raven.
“Of course. And don’t protest.” Raven said to the back of Sara-Beth’s head. “Your brother is perfectly capable of cooking up something–or at least reheating some stew. And if he doesn’t want to, he probably has the pocket money to go to the Boar and get something.”
“I’d point out that the food at the Boar comes with it’s hazards.”
“But I’d just point out that Darin has an iron stomach and is more than a match for it.” Raven told her.
“Mama! Johnny’s in ‘is braises ‘gain.” Raven sighed, why was it that Anna-Marie was perfectly capable of taking any boy on the playground to task, but at home, she just tattled to Mama. Then again, I probably don’t want my eight year old practicing her Sminese burn technique on my three year old.
“He’s fine, now go call Papa Bear, this is ready.” Anna-Marie hurried to the back door as Raven dished up the three plates on the table and dumped Johnny, who true to form was running around in his braises just as Anna-Marie had said into his chair with a bowl of mush.
“Did Darry ever put a girl’s plaits in an inkwell?” Anna-Marie asked Sara-Beth curiously. Sara-Beth shook her head with a laugh.
“No, Darin’s never been much of one for pranks.” Raven glanced at Sara-Beth as something slipped into her voice.
“He wouldn’t have anyway, Darry’s too nice.” Raven said.
“He did get into a couple of fights cause other boys were being mean to girls, though.” Sara-Beth pointed out.
“Aren’t you gonna ask Papa if he ever dipped girls plaits?” Eric teased, his deep voice rumbling.
“They had ink when you were in school, papa?” Anna-Marie asked her eyes wide and innocent.
“Your daughter.” Eric shot a mock glare at Raven who gave her best impression of Anna-Marie’s innocent expression.
“Of course they had ink when Papa was in school.” Raven said. “He was just tired all the time from having to chase down the deer and stuff to write on cause it was before paper.” Anna-Marie covered her mouth with her hand and giggled.
“Done, mama!” Johnny announced. His bowl was still half full, Raven could see it from where she was sitting.
“Are you sure? Cause I still see supper in there.” Johnny picked up the bowl and dumped the rest of the mush onto the floor.
“Done, mama! Down!” Johnny told her.
“You get down when Mama finishes her dinner, you know the rules.” Johnny kicked his feet and pounded his fists for about as long as it took for Raven’s eyebrow to quirk upward and then the boy fell silent, though if that glint in his eye was any indication, this wasn’t over.
If you came right down to it, neither of her kids were Eric’s kids in personality. Eric was hound friendly and so kind and sweet it was really a surprise he didn’t melt in the rain. Nope, if Raven wanted someone to blame for her twisted little children, she’d have to look in the mirror.
It was really best not to give Johnny too much time to think about whatever it was that he was planning, so Raven tucked into her dinner, leaving the conversation to Sara-Beth, Eric, and Anna-Marie.
“Say good-night to Sara-Beth, Johnny.” Raven instructed from where she was cleaning up the wooden bowl and spilled mush as the boy toddled off in the direction of the toys.
“Night-night!” The little boy looked up at Sara-Beth with a grin. It was always good to remind her that kids weren’t always nightmares, even hers. And once the bowl and plates were in the sink with Eric helping Anna-Marie was them, Raven walked outside into the soft summer night with her friend.
“I love having dinner with your family.” Sara-Beth commented. Raven looked at her. “No, really. Your kids make me giggle. Darin’s too serious by a half. It’s good to be around people who don’t take life too seriously.”
“Well, maybe your kids will be pranksters.” Raven shrugged. “You need more laughs in your life.”
“Your kids are charmers, but I need a far better reason than just that kids might make me laugh to have a few.” Raven probably had a retort to that, but just then the door cracked open.
“Mama?” Anna-Marie asked.
“What? I’m trying to say good night to Sara-Beth.”
“You said to tell you if Johnny was naked. Papa’s chasing him all over the living room an’ he’s running ’round naked as a jaybird.” Anna-Marie said. Sara-Beth held up a hand to forestall whatever Raven was about to say.
“I really do need to go, I have to work tomorrow.” The other woman told her. “You go chase your son.”
“Thanks.” Raven said, somewhat sourly, pulling Sara-Beth into a hug. After Johnny was cornered and captured and forced to endure a bath–might as well add insult to injury–Raven handed Johnny over to Eric to be put to bed. Which wasn’t ever an easy task, in fact she finished helping Anna-Marie with her copywork and into bed herself before Eric emerged from Johnny’s room with a more than slightly harried expression on his face.
“So,” she asked over her shoulder. “How long do you suppose we have?”
“With that kid, maybe five minutes, maybe an hour, maybe five hours.” Eric shrugged. “I don’t remember Anna-Marie being quite this troublesome.”
“She was–differently troublesome.” Raven got up, ignoring her protesting feet for the moment. “All kids are, so far as I know. Even the not troublesome ones are troublesome in their not-troublesomeness.”
“Darin?” Raven nodded. “Same old, same old?”
“Yep.” Eric nodded. “If it would help any, have Sara-Beth tell Darin that if he finishes school and can’t find anything but sweeping stables for an apprenticeship, I’ll give him one.” Raven noted that away, it probably would help. “I would, I mean he’s a good kid and works hard, not that he’ll need it, though.”
“Yeah, try and convince him of that.” Raven agreed. “But thank you, anyway.”
“So, because I’m such a generous soul, do I get a reward?” He asked leaning in close to kiss her.
“I’ll think about it.”