Eastfield: Episode Eight: Rolls and Rolls and Rolls Along
Posted March 21st, 2018 by Gracithe1andonly
in wardly searching
A preliminary hearing was going to take place. Bernie hadn’t encountered the word “preliminary” before, but Mr. Pederson, whose tension towards the boy had begun to dissipate, had been happy to inform him that it meant it was only a beginning.
“Nothing can really happen here,” he said, “they’re just going to make sure an adoption is actually necessary.”
So Bernie sat, clothed in a sweater that used to be Luanne’s alongside other, new, scratchy clothes, and tried to keep himself still as absolutely nothing seemed to happen. People talked, and seemingly said nothing amid mounds of fluff, but Mr. Pederson was very focused, taking occasional notes, which told Bernie that something important was happening.
Then the presider said something that piqued his attention.
“Since you were so kind as to fill us in on everything that had happened up till now, we’ve managed to secure the presence of the investigative agent. Eager? Amelia Eager? Would you please stand?”
Bernie’s brow furrowed. It was impossible for this lady to be the same lady he had heard of. She was probably busy elsewhere, not stuck in Houston, Texas; government officials had a way, Mr. Pederson airily told him, of flying all about the country. Besides, the people Bernie had heard the name from had pronounced her name differently. The lady in question stood up from where she was seated in the back of the mostly empty room, walking towards the front and the small knot of people at a clip.
She was a tall, imposing lady with a pair of bright, beady eyes like a bird of prey, a smile that could put one at ease or threaten one, depending on context, and short hair in a functional auburn ponytail. She seemed amiable enough as she shook everyone’s hand and reassured everyone that she would get to the bottom of this. Bernie couldn’t help the feeling she was looking through them, not at them, however, and he frowned in discomfort.
He forgot his discomfort as she, feeling the need to quietly reverse an error, introduced herself as “Am-ell-ia” rather than “Am-eel-ia.” He looked at her with a new intensity, still unwilling to believe that this was the lady he had been told about.
In the dark with Dora, Italy the clear-voiced spoke often of Russell Randall Durantel and his escape. It was a bright and hopeful and tangible thing, that tale, becoming the equivalent of a fire to huddle around on a cold outdoor night. The lady Amelia was neither protagonist or antagonist in that tale, but had, for some reason, only been able to rescue Russell, a fact at which Italy tried and failed to hide her bitterness.
As he tried to measure the agent based on what he had heard and what he was seeing now, she suddenly noticed his stare and looked him in the eye, rather than through him. Something flickered in her face for a moment, a shudder went through her, then she nonchalantly looked away.
“Willingly blind,” warned the voice that always led right, and Bernie sighed and closed his eyes, a feeling washing over him that was half impatience and half dread.
The bell rang, and Russell looked at the clock, startled, and thanked goodness itself. With a speed customary to him but incredible to an outsider, he packed his bag, flung it over his shoulder, and jogged out the door to his car. He stowed his backpack behind him, took a moment to rest his bad wrist on the wheel and breathe, then started the car. He drove up smoothly to where Marcus was walking down the sidewalk, holding a silent Caleb by the hand. Rolling down the window, he grinned.
“Hey, losers. Need a ride?”
“Oh, you’re one to talk,” Marcus retorted light-heartedly, opening the door for Caleb to scoot into his booster. He then leapt into the passenger seat, beside Russell. “Where are the others?”
“Extracurriculars,” Russell answered shortly, focusing on turning.
Marcus frowned at that. “Oh. Miss Soule’s gonna be curious. I told her I needed to do something for family this afternoon.”
Russell winced. “Oops. I knew I was forgetting to tell you something this morning.”
“I’ll make something up,” muttered Marcus, but Russell could tell he wasn’t happy about it.
As he drove, Russell focused on the road and the weather. Cloudy weather made the car feel cozy, rainy weather made it a safety, sunny weather made it a vessel for adventure, old dusty minivan though it was.
Today, the sun was shining clear through a blue sky, and Russell couldn’t help the feeling he was on the cusp of something amazing, some new discovery, something even more exciting than the day he decided to fight Ironskill, with or without help.
Then again, that might have just been the coffee talking.
He chuckled at himself and breathed again, knowing how dangerous it was to drive with his attention in five places at once. He turned onto the familiar quiet street without incident and parked in front of the house.
It was a rather average-sized house except in that it had a second-story addition that differed from the rest of the house in material; it was blue wooden siding instead of red-brown bricks.
A path lined with slabs of shale led up to the front door. A Chinese tallow tree with large leaves of an elegant shape graced the yard to the right of the path, and among the tall grasses at its roots a gray statue of a lady with a modest and gentle bearing was half-hidden. To the left was a driveway upon which a small white car and an ancient vehicle in far worse shape than the weathered Durantel van was parked. Beyond the driveway was an alley between two houses, at the end of which was a gate into the backyard. Russell led Marcus and Caleb down this path now and through the latched wooden gate.
Seemingly out of place in this quiet neighborhood, there was quite the gathering beyond the gate.
Quite a few of the gatherers noticed Russell’s unobtrusive entrance and ran to him in happy greeting. After the general rush, two remained nearby. They were young girls, one with tangled but straight brown hair, freckles, and a nonplussed expression, the other with quite short wavy blonde hair, bright green eyes, and a warm, dreamy, yet energetic smile.
“Sup, Doggo,” Russell greeted the nonplussed girl, and then turned to the dreamer. “Hey, Flim.”
“I hope you figure something out, and quick,” Doggo said irritably. “He’ll never admit it, but the old man’s about ready to explode. He may love all of us, but he wasn’t prepared for a panic Gathering in his own house.”
Before Russell could ask the location of the said ‘old man,’ Takeo Kusakabe and owner of the property on which he stood, Flim tugged his sleeve. “He’s upstairs with Ozzie and Andrada.”
Impressed by her foresight, Russell raised a brow, and she winked. “Hurry up! They’ve been waiting for you.”
Russell, Marcus and Caleb in tow, opened the back door and entered the house. The utility room was filled to the brim with people, one of which had white hair, dreadfully pale skin, and red eyes. He was standing on a table shouting at everyone else to order themselves. Russell gestured to the boy, Spike, to get off the table, but Spike’s tunnel vision struck again, and Russell was unnoticed. Weighing his options of approaching Spike to get him off the table (which would make Spike angry and unpleasant for the remainder of the day and possibly the week) and letting him rail on (which would make everyone else either amused or irritated) Russell chose the second option, moving on and rolling his eyes in exasperated fondness.
The wooden stairs were adjacent to the utility room, and Russell climbed them, enjoying the rhythm of his own footfalls and those of his brothers behind him. He arrived in the upstairs apartment to see a not unfamiliar sight. An anxious Tacky stood at the window, muttering about the amount of gray hairs these kids were giving him, Ozzie tried to nap with his mud-covered shoes on the ping-pong table, and the lovely Andrada attempted to get him to take his mud-covered shoes off the ping-pong table.
All three of them turned to greet the Durantel boys with joy. Takeo, called Tacky, greeted them with a sprightly turn and a paternal smile, Ozzie greeted them by deigning to wake up with many a start and snort, and Andrada waved, pushing her well-brushed dark hair away from her face conscientiously.
“So,” Tacky said by way of greeting, “We have got to get these kids out of here or I’ll go mad.”
“You’ll never go mad,” Andrada smiled, the chocolate skin around her dark eyes crinkling, “you love us too much for that.”
“He’s already crazy,” Ozzie interrupted blearily, “or he wouldn’t love us.”
“Touché,” Marcus offered his opinion from where he was sitting behind the bar and watching their shenanigans with a smile.
“Of course, we need to leave, but we need to find a new place to meet, first,” Russell brought the banter down to reality.
“Where will we go?” Andrada asked, eyes soft and introspective. There was no real answer to the question, and the heaviness of ignorance settled over them.
“Well,” Marcus said into the silence with his usual adept changing of the atmosphere, “maybe we could use the auditorium at Eastfield.”
“You think your teachers would let us on the property?” Ozzie drawled, and Andrada glared at him.
“Well, nah,” Marcus shrugged, unfazed, “it was just a suggestion.”
“Since you know everything, Ozzie, why don’t you figure out where to gather?” Tacky asked irritably.
Inspiration rose in Russell’s chest, causing him to sit up very straight. “Hey, yeah! Ozzie, do you have any ideas?”
Ozzie looked, nonplussed, at Russell. “Why would I?”
“No one knows this city like you,” Russell explained quickly, “I bet you’ve hung around in places we could use!”
Ozzie’s red-rimmed eyes narrowed in calculated memory. “Got a few places I could maybe check out.”
“Do it!” Russell commanded warmly. “And in the meantime, everyone not living here had better leave. Ozzie, how long do you think it’ll take before we have an answer?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “A week, maybe two? I dunno, depends how easy it is to find where I’ve been before.”
“So we’ll meet back here in two weeks with an idea for a place, yeah, Tacky?” Russell looked at the eldest.
He nodded, letting go of the windowpane to saunter slowly towards the stairs. “Sounds good. I’ll have had time to clean up by then. I’ll go down and get the wassail heating. No reason to send off the kids without anything to drink. Andrada, could you get the foam cups? I’ll need them.”
For answer, the lady nodded and swept downstairs, but not without a smile of grateful affection towards Russell.
As always, the utter trust that Andrada-and really, all the Fledglings-had for Russell curtailed his customary confidence a tad. He wasn’t afraid of much, since he had already descended into the darkest places the Earth could hold, but at the top of that small list was letting down these people who relied on him for the justice and community the world would never give them, now. Once he had acknowledged and quelled the flutter of fear in his stomach, however, his resolve hardened.
“Alright,” Russell said, “let’s get to work. Where are you thinking, Ozzie? Anything we can do to help you figure it out?”
The greatest things Russell had done were not of his making alone. He had not chosen to be the oldest of his brothers. He had not chosen to be taken by Ironskill, nor had he chosen his belligerent government. What he had chosen was his reaction to those situations, and he had taken his lesson from that. He had not chosen to lose Eternity Hall, but now he had a chance to win something even better for his people who deserved so much.
Bernie wriggled in his new clothes. His suit wasn’t as soft as his shirt and sweatpants, and it was cleaner as well as stiffer. The general effect was to make Mrs. Pederson coo over him, which was rather irritating. He didn’t have time to dwell on his irritation, however-he never did, for one reason or another. Today, the Pedersons were bringing him to their church. Bernie had known churches in the time between escaping Ironskill and meeting Luanne. There was usually well-tended foliage around them, and if he chose the right bush, it was unlikely that he would be surprised or bothered by another person. This tidbit of information, though, made Luanne turn red with amused embarrassment while her parents glanced at each other with a familiar worry. Bernie remembered belatedly that there were things he thought and said that distressed other people and so decided to practice being quiet for church.
Well, Mr. Pederson called it ‘church,’ and Mrs. Pederson called it ‘Mass.’ Luanne used those terms interchangeably, and no one seemed to notice that they were using two words for what appeared to be the same thing. Mr. Pederson repeated the instructions that he was to be quiet and well-behaved while they were there, Mrs. Pederson tried to get across to him a hundred different ways that Mass was important, but Luanne just gave him looks that were half-mischief and half-pride. She trusted him to be well-behaved and to listen.
So now, Bernie was still, kneeling along with everybody else. It bothered him that he didn’t know what he was kneeling to, but at least he knew that it wasn’t anything Luanne would abhor, and since she seemed to have even higher standards than him, that was a good sign. It was not absolutely silent-there were too many people in the room for that to be true, but it was surprisingly quiet. The room was large, and the floor, a deep green carpet, was speckled with fragments of colored light that spilled through the stained glass windows. Faces, stern and painted by the morning sun through the windows, all looked in the same direction. Bernie followed their gaze to something that looked like a stage, but was far more dignified.
He looked up to what was the centerpiece of the church, and his breath caught in his throat-there was a man there, a man in immense pain, and Bernie wondered why on earth everyone was being so quiet when something like that was going on.
Then he realized it was only a statue, and remembered he was supposed to be quiet, too. He looked intensely at the crucifix, trying to understand it. It was only a statue, which was good, but why would somebody have a statue of someone being hurt? It seemed like an altar to evil.
Or maybe, the man was a good man, and by his pain in that moment, had won a great battle. Much like Russell, the Big Guy, who had been hurt, then risked being hurt again to save everyone else he knew and loved.
Bernie smiled at that thought, and hoped the man on the statue was well now. He wondered who he was.
In a split second, Bernie remembered the voice that had told him where to go in Hydraulic, the voice that had led him to Luanne and the Pedersons, and equated the person he was kneeling to with that voice. He jumped to his feet and shouted gleefully, “It was you! It was you the whole time!”
He stood there, grinning, until he realized the odd sound next to him was Mr. Pederson clearing his throat. He froze in consternation as he realized he had disobeyed, but it was for a good enough reason that he grinned sheepishly as he sat down again, whispering, “Sorry.”
He knelt again, but this time, he meant it.
For the rest of the day he was in a perpetual good mood. He was predisposed to contentment anyhow, but he didn’t always have quite as much trouble containing himself. Yet, while undeniably happy, Bernie had spent too much time in places where goodness was hard to see to be ignorant of the forces of evil. In his dreams, the fears buried beneath reason and faith came out to play, and he awoke in a panic for the first time since being accepted into the Pederson’s house.
Quiet as a mouse, he stole upstairs to Luanne’s room and knocked on the door. She didn’t respond, so he opened the door quietly, and found her barely awake.
“Bernie?” she said drowsily, and he smiled abashedly back at her. “Hi, Lu.”
“Are you okay?” she pushed herself upward, and Bernie couldn’t help but fidget and look away. “No puedo dormir,” he said quickly, and Luanne blinked in confusion.
He recalled that she couldn’t speak Spanish, and rephrased. “Can’t sleep. Bad dream.”
“Oh,” she responded, and Bernie took that as a cue to launch into a plea.
“Is it okay if I-I mean, I know you’re not Mari or Mami, but,” he paused, can I sleep in your bed?”
“C’mon, baby bird,” Luanne consented, patting beside her, and Bernie’s fears began to melt. “Oh, yay!” He leapt up into the waiting safety.
“What was the dream about?” Luanne asked slowly, still drowsy.
Bernie frowned. “They were trying to make it so I’d never find you, or you find me. But,” he laughed triumphantly, “they didn’t think about him!”
“Who?” Luanne asked, blinking.
“God, of course,” Bernie said the name whose meaning was finally clear to him, then grinned mischievously as he remembered somebody else he had to thank. “And Russell Durantel.”
“Oh,” said Luanne, and Bernie didn’t realize that the weariness in her voice had more to do with the name he had just said than with the lateness of the hour.
“Why haven’t the two of them met?” Bernie wondered aloud, “they’d be such good friends.”
“Who?” Luanne yawned, and Bernie giggled before repeating, “God, of course. And Russell Durantel.”
Luanne sighed a deep sigh of resignation. “Go to sleep, Bernie.”
Bernie smiled fondly down at his sister. “Mkay. Night, Lu.”
“Goodnight, Bernie,” Luanne murmured, “I love you.”
Bernie perked up and snuggled deeper under the covers. “Love you too!”
See more stories by Tía Snow