Eastfield: Episode Nine: October Is the Cruelest Month (pt. 2)
Posted September 19th, 2019 by Gracithe1andonly
in wardly searching
Russell loved and hated the afternoon. He’d tried to stay at school that day, he really had, but Tacky had called him and asked him to look for Spike, who had had yet another fight with Doggo and stormed out. He’d found Spike easily-while the kid could hide really well if he wanted, he was not subtle when he was mad-but once Spike and Doggo were in the same room again, they proceeded to give one another the cold shoulder and not say a thing to one another for a long time. While waiting for the social ice in the room to melt, Russell had tried to text Luanne, but as always his lack of dexterity with his nondominant, only functioning hand tripped him up.
Just as he was reflecting that, since his broken wrist made communicating harder for him, maybe a misunderstanding between Doggo and Spike made communication between them harder, Doggo got up and told Spike that while he was wrong about her, she shouldn’t have kicked him, and then she apologized. Spike deflated, the situation resolved, and Russell shrugged his shoulders and went back to school, just in time to pick up his brothers.
He spent the afternoon at home in his room trying not to fall asleep while making educated guesses on homework from the previous month, then on the phone with a certain Mr. Brooks whose family had taken in a Fledgling and called Russell often to ask for explanations of her strange behavior. Her name was Frankie and she had been Russell’s cellmate back in the day, so he usually had a good guess at why she did the things she did. He occasionally did similar things for similar reasons.
After hanging up the phone with Mr. Brooks and wondering idly if going outside on sleepless nights was an irresistible compulsion for more Fledglings than just him and Frankie, he went and made himself his third cup of coffee of the day and tried to refocus on physics. Failing, he turned his speeding brain to a totally different problem and accordingly turned towards where he knew his brother was.
“Marcus,” Russell called.
Marcus sat up from where he had been curled on his top bunk, listening to music. “What?”
“Luanne does not want to talk to me.”
“What do you expect? You’re problematic.”
Russell snorted. As usual, Marcus was unfortunately correct.
“What do you think she’d say if I turned up to that play she’s in?”
Marcus blinked. “Well. That would be a very blunt announcement that you’re not planning to leave her alone.”
“And that I care about her as a person. Which I do,” Russell insisted.
“You probably won’t have time,” Marcus said casually.
“You trying to persuade me not to?” Russell asked, and Marcus shrugged.
“Well, either she’ll be touched at the gesture or really, really mad. She’s a bit overwhelmed right now, you know. So you going to the play will either help, or make her blow up.”
“Worth the risk, I think,” said Russell in a thoughtful tone. Marcus began to replace his headphones.
“I get nervous every time you say that,” he half-joked in a murmur before letting relative silence fill the room again.
Russell wondered for a moment why he felt so uncomfortable after that discussion, then remembered he had homework, and, with a halfhearted groan, went back to his kinematics problems. Mr. Payne was an exam-heavy grader, so if Russell just managed to understand the concepts and pass the exam, he might not fail every class this year.
The moment they stepped into the courtroom, Bernie felt cold inwardly, as if his soul was shivering. He was confused as to why, and could only squeezed Luanne’s hand tighter until he saw Amelia Eager presenting her evidence while the social worker looked on over the judge’s shoulder. From the social worker, a very nice lady Mr. Pederson had found named Joana Winster, Bernie only felt reassurance, as usual. Bernie knew Joana wanted him to be with Luanne and the Pedersons. Agent Eager, on the other hand, seemed disinterested, narrow, and cold. Bernie realized Amelia was the cause of the cold he felt, something he wouldn’t expect from Russell’s savior.
She was doing something bad. But what? Keeping him from being one of the Pedersons?
Proceedings began, and the evidence that Bernie’s parents were dead that Amelia had provided was strong enough for the judge to allow the second stage of proceedings. Bernie breathed a sigh of relief. So that wasn’t it.
Suddenly, however, Luanne narrowed her eyes and stooped down to whisper to him. “Why is she only holding a notebook page?”
Bernie didn’t understand why this was important. Luanne explained, “If she found a notebook of evidence, shouldn’t she present the whole thing?”
Bernie frowned, then realized. Luanne’s family-his family-didn’t want to believe Ironskill was real. Maybe they weren’t the only ones. Again he realized something that with his own mind alone he could not have realized—that Agent Amelia knew most people didn’t want to know the truth about Ironskill, and was encouraging the lies.
His six-year-old temper began to boil over, but one sideways look from Mister Pederson made him clench his fists and rein it in. He shouldn’t yell out loud again, anyways-that hadn’t been good in church, and it would not be good here. “Challenging them every other moment won’t help. It’ll just make everyone tired,” Russell had said.
He resolved to find Russell again, and tell him about this. On his advice, he was willing to master his emotions, but it was so difficult that he knew he couldn’t do it without help.
They were early to play practice. Bernie was sitting with their parents in the room adjacent, and Meg was in the bathroom. Luanne found herself sitting alone in the empty theater, undone geometry homework on her lap, staring blankly at the unlit stage lights, idly imagining what they would be like when opening night finally came. She got to her feet before she knew what she was doing and stood on the stage, imagining a cold London street on Christmas night, imagining her character, a warm-hearted person who ran a charity. She ran through her first few lines, but the absence of the talented actress that was Scrooge made her pause.
She stood on the stage for a moment, then from a place in her she wasn’t aware she had opened, words came.
“So why…” she started in a slow drawl that quickly accelerated as she realized what she wanted to say. “So why is fire unable to melt the ice? Fire can melt rock-hard water when there’s enough of it. Unless the rock-hard water isn’t water at all, but only a rock. Stone heart!” she cried, and the phrase sent a thrill through her. “Stone heart. Stone heart!” she repeated, and her nonsense words had too much weight in them to be nonsense.
“Who am I calling stone heart?” Luanne muttered to herself, then heard slow applause. Meg was wandering through the door, Bernie beside her.
“Man, Luanne,” said Meg, “maybe you should have been George Bailey instead.”
Luanne blushed, embarrassed at her own display and glad only her best friend and little brother had seen her. “No, I couldn’t do that in front of people. See how embarrassed I am just because you guys saw me!”
Meg nodded, turned the conversation towards dinner arrangements, and Luanne quickly forgot about what had happened until Bernie, as they were riding home, scooted closer to her.
“For a stone heart, you’re really soft and really sweet,” he murmured, and Luanne, though touched, didn’t know what else to make of it.
Frankly, she didn’t want to.
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