Eastfield: Episode Six: A Last Cruel Trick (pt. 1)
Posted February 12th, 2017 by Gracithe1andonly
in wardly searching
A/N: CC welcomed on this one. Stuff has stopped happening at quite the same rate. We have some conversation/filler, which can be just as satisfying as STUFF HAPPENING if done right. I'd like to know if I did it right.
In a sudden fit of sarcastic amusement, Luanne started humming “In the Hall of the Mountain King” under her breath as she tried to sneak over the floor of the living room. Bernie, meanwhile, had already crept nimbly and quietly to the bottom of the stairs, where he waited for her, shaking his head half-fondly, half-firmly at her humming. Any needless noise at all greatly increased the chance of her parents waking up and confronting her and Bernie before they were ready.
They tiptoed up the stairs together, Luanne wincing at every creak her feet made, but managed to get to the top of the stairs with no visible parental response. She let down her guard and opened her door, but the loudest creak imaginable sounded. Luanne and Bernie looked at each other and cringed, then a familiar voice said distantly, “Luanne?” Bernie looked like he wanted to bolt, but instead jumped directly behind the girl.
Luanne’s mother was climbing up the steps in her nightgown, her dark hair in disarray. “Honey? Is that you?”
“Yes, Mom,” Luanne said with a note of resignation in her voice. “It’s me.”
Melanie Pederson finished climbing the stairs and looked at her daughter starkly. “Where have you been, Luanne? We called the police.”
“You know that guy with the bookstore?” Luanne asked.
“Yeah, Luke Johnson or something like that?” her mother replied.
“Well, turns out he’s Cory’s brother and was trying to set us up or something,” Luanne said sourly as curdled milk. “I did not get a book.”
“But she got me!” Bernie piped up. Luanne couldn’t help a smile, even as her dazed-looking mother startled. “Who’s there?”
Bernie slowly stepped out from behind Luanne and bobbed in respect. “You are Luanne’s mommy,” he said in a very matter-of-fact tone.
Her mother’s surprise turned to a warm smile. “Yes, I am,” she said, “I’m Melanie Pederson. Who are you?”
“I’m Bernie Willis,” he answered, taking the woman’s extended hand gingerly and shaking it awkwardly.
“Luanne?” her mother asked, “where in the world did this boy come from?”
“He sort of followed me home,” Luanne glanced over the long story.
Her mother looked at her piercingly, then turned to Bernie, whose thin brown brows raised in counter-appraisal.
“I have no idea who you are or where you came from,” Melanie Pederson murmured half to Bernie and half to herself, “but what kind of woman would I be if I just turned you out?” Louder, she added, “Do you mind sleeping in our guest room, Bernie?”
Bernie shook his head, smiling at Luanne’s mother, and then turning to Luanne. “I like your mom.”
Luanne chuckled a small chuckle. “I do too,” she confided aloud, then walked over and opened the door to the small guest room. “Here you go, little boy.”
Bernie ran inside, leapt onto the bed, curled up in the quilt, and said no more. Luanne was about to close the door behind him, but thought better of it and left a crack.
A moment later, after Luanne’s mother had confirmed with the police that her daughter had come home safe, mother and daughter sat facing each other on the couch. There was a moment of heavy but not unpleasant silence before her mother mused, “Should we tell your father?”
Luanne shook her head hesitantly. “I don’t think we should do anything. I think we’re past the point of good decision making.”
“And Saxon gets grumpy if he’s awakened suddenly,” said the woman fondly. “Alright. We’ll discuss it in the morning. I think that maybe you should stay home from school tomorrow.”
“What?” Luanne asked, “why?”
“Well,” said her mother, “you still have a story to tell, and we have a little boy we don’t know what to do with at the moment. I have a feeling it’ll go smoother if you’re here.”
Luanne looked at her mother, wondering if there was more to it than that, but she saw nothing in the familiar, passive brown eyes to indicate what it was.
“You should go to bed,” the woman advised, standing.
“Okay,” Luanne agreed, feeling her weariness. She started up the stairs and went to sleep, not bothering to go through her usual before-bed preparations.
Luanne woke once to her alarm and the birdsong, startled, then realized she didn’t have to go to school. She turned off the alarm, turned over, and slept once more.
When she awoke again, it was to a consistent patting of her elbow. The moment she stirred, the hand moved to her cheek. When she opened her eyes, the hand’s owner whooped and started jumping on the bed. “It’s morning! It’s morning! It’s nine in the morning! And your mama says to get up!”
Luanne blinked as Bernie bounced on her, but was startled into wakefulness. She was annoyed at first, but then smiled at the beaming child. “Okay. I’m going to get up and dressed, alright? I’ll be out in a bit.”
Bernie nodded and hurtled out of the room.
True to her word, Luanne soon emerged from her room and bounced down the stairs. Her mother waved as she fried bacon. Bernie was flitting around the living room, carefully staying out of the kitchen area. Her father was sitting on the couch, as he liked to when eating a leisurely breakfast or lunch at home. He followed the boy’s progress with slightly panicked grey-blue eyes.
Luanne’s mother waved in greeting and said quietly but emphatically, “I am never giving that child coffee.”
Luanne laughed and nodded in agreement. She was feeling good. Bernie was with her, in her house; she had done right by him, but what to do with him was no longer entirely her concern.
“You did not get up very fast,” Bernie noticed, stopping next to her.
“I am a girl who likes to take her sweet time getting ready for the day,” Luanne explained playfully.
Bernie nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. You should eat the eggs. They are very good.”
“I think I will,” Luanne nodded chipperly in agreement, and fell to.
After breakfast, Luanne’s father cornered her. “Luanne, where the- where does this boy come from?”
Luanne was a little taken aback by his obvious disgruntlement, but inwardly shrugged, chagrined, as she remembered that Bernie was, in general, quite overwhelming. She toyed for a moment with the idea of telling the whole truth, but decided to only tell the story of last night, and that abridged. She had no wish to rake up all the memories of the Fledgling Gathering with her parents analyzing her choices.
The story she told her parents was this: she had gone to get the book, and it had turned out to be a harmless, if infuriating, scheme to set her up with a boy named Cory who she didn’t like at all. She had started walking home after getting out of the awkward situation, and soon found that a little boy was following her. They talked on the way home, but Luanne didn’t know any more than that his parents were dead and his name was Bernie Willis.
“His parents are dead?” Saxon Pederson the lawyer noticed with interest and not a little concern. “I guess that has something to do why he was alone in the streets. Why did he follow you?”
Luanne shrugged. “What he said was, ‘You’re pretty and nice.’”
Saxon snorted. “He’s not wrong. We’re going to have to find out where he comes from, what happened to his parents exactly, and why he was alone.”
Luanne shifted uncomfortably, but kept her face neutral. She knew what Bernie would say about the last question, and she had a general idea about how her father would react. If he was so reluctant to accept him as he was now, the revelation that he was a Fledgling would set off a few disastrous catalysts. “We need a lawyer,” she said instead.
“Good thing we have one, then,” her mother pointed out playfully, patting her husband’s hand as she sat beside him on the couch. “Bernie, dear,” she called, “would you come sit with us?”
Bernie stopped his fluttering and sat on his feet beside Luanne, beaming at everyone. “The sun is getting higher! But I’m inside!”
“Is that a problem, little boy?” Luanne asked, playfully probing.
Bernie shrugged. “Not really. Why did you want me to sit?”
“We need to ask you a few questions,” Luanne’s father said, admirably amicably.
Bernie’s brow furrowed. “Is it okay if I can’t answer?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s perfectly fine,” her mother nodded reassuringly.
Bernie took a deep breath as if about to leap into deep water. “Okay. I’m ready.”
The Pedersons gleaned that Bernie’s family had lived alone in the middle of nowhere, that his parents’ names were Barry and Maria, that tall men wearing dark clothes had murdered them in front of him, and that he had had a twin sister named Marigold who (Bernie was almost certain) was dead too. After these revelations, Luanne was biting her lip and trying to conceal the ache of empathy in her heart, and both her parents looked shocked and sad. The children were dismissed, and accordingly ran up to Luanne’s room. Luanne was starting to chatter to wash down the sadness, but Bernie gestured to her to be silent as he tucked his ear to the gap between the floor and the door.
“-who knows what problems he’s going to end up having, Mel?” Luanne’s father was saying. “Most adultshaven’t gone through what he’s gone through, let alone kids his age.”
“That’s exactly why he has to stay,” Luanne’s mother retorted quietly, heavily. “We’re not at all equipped to handle a kid who’s watched murder, but who is? Who will raise him, if we give him to the system?”
“Someone will step up,” he assured, but his hollow tone belied his uncertainty.
“We don’t know that, sweetheart. I’m not asking you to adopt a son, not now, but I’m asking you not to give him to the system. I’m asking you to wait until we find a family who can love him like he should be loved. He should stay here until we find them.”
The man grunted assent. “I’ll promise him this- I am a lawyer, and whoever killed his parents will answer for it. We will find those tall, dark men, and they will answer for what they did.”
Empty words, Luanne found herself thinking bitterly, before realizing she was thinking as if Ironskill was real, and had killed Bernie’s parents. It wasn’t Ironskill who killed the Willises, because Ironskill doesn’t exist,she said to herself.
Bernie exhaled and stood up from the floor. “I’m staying,” he sighed in relief, “at least for now.”
“Was there ever any doubt?” Luanne asked.
The child looked at her with loving yet cool brown eyes as he replied. “Of course there was.”
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