Bridge Over Troubled Lilies
“Welcome to our outrageously boisterous abode.” Kor’s voice, softly strained, whispers over Tirigan’s head as he helps me bring my brother inside the house. His eyes rake slowly over Tirigan’s torso. It’s deliberate. Knowing. “The giatrós in town can be bribed into working with the promise of baked goods.”
“I’m fine,” Tirigan answers weakly and a shade too quickly. “Simply need rest.”
“I was witness to the accident,” Avias interjects, eyes trained fiercely on the back of Tirigan’s head. “The knife–”
“Honestly, Avias,” I cut him off with a forced laugh. “I think your mind filled in what it could to explain what happened. I saw the wound, and it’s been a few days now. Tirigan just bleeds easily.” There’s a long pause where I’m given the opportunity to practice my fake grin and hope the topic will be dropped. The last thing we need is a professional healer coming here to inspect Tirigan’s wound.
Kor doesn’t argue. “Avias, why don’t you see to feeding us?”
Avias silently implores me to accept the offer of medical attention, but, after another moment of me avoiding his gaze, he disappears further into the house.
Vi and Oleander trail behind us, Cyra asleep in Oleander’s arms. The walk from the train station was lengthy and tiring, even with Kor and Avias levitating all of our luggage.
Ow. Tirigan’s complaint floats abruptly into my mind, startling me.
Still hurts? I adjust my hold on him as I look down at his stomach. Part of me expects the knife to still be buried inside.
In case you’ve forgotten, Charlie, I’ve been impaled.
My exasperated sigh is just a front for how grateful I am that he’s able to make light of the situation. You’ve healed a lot already. Buck up, buttercup.
I don’t know what that is but I can assure you- Tirigan’s thought cuts off when he tries to shuck off my hold on him. A groan escapes instead.
“He needs a lie down,” Bo says from behind us. “Dad’s gonna take him to Oleander’s room. Through there.” She gestures, and I follow Kor’s lead, moving through a somewhat narrow hallway.
The floors and panels of the walls are all muddy brown. It’s a comforting color, instantly warming.
The house in its entirety, unlike its occupants, is rather simple, but still absolutely beautiful. Sitting in the woods on the northwest side of Pacoa, the last sign of residency before Kor’s house is a row of homes on the edge of the little town. We’re secluded. Safe.
The hallway we follow Kor down leads to a large living area with all the adornments of a typical living room. I don’t have much time to look around before Kor opens a door towards the back of the room and leads us through a small bathroom. It’s connected to a bedroom larger than the one Tirigan and I shared in the trailer. There’s a bed, a small table next to the bed, a desk covered in papers and opened books, and a few paintings on the wall. On the right side of the room there’s another door which stands open, exposing what looks like another small hallway. It’s not a very large house, but I already feel lost.
“I should probably check on his wound,” I tell them as I help Tirigan to the bed. “Do you have any bandages or antiseptic?”
“Yeah.” Bo nods and heads for the door next to the desk, the one we didn’t enter through. “Oleander works us up batches of peroxide on the regular; football injuries and such.”
“Right,” I reply absently, already hovering over Tirigan and beginning to untie the makeshift bandage we made on the train.
“Be right back,” Bo says as her footsteps disappear down the small dark hallway.
“I’m going to make sure Avias is faring well with dinner,” Kor tells us a little too loudly. He’s no longer making eye contact. He’s unsettled. Our attempts at normalcy don’t seem to be working.
“So, scale of one to ten?” I ask my brother once we’re alone. His body stiffens as my knuckles brush his stomach. “I’ll have to touch you some more to change the bandages. I’m sorry.”
Five, Tirigan replies, ignoring my apology. I don’t know if it’s out of shame or disinterest. Seven for the benefit of our audience.
“Not bad. All things considered.”
“How is he?” Vi’s voice comes from the living room, and she appears at the bedroom door a second later. “What can I get you?” Deep lines of concern cover her forehead; her lips turn down into a severe frown. It makes her look ten years older. I realize then I don’t know exactly how old Vi is, but she’s certainly several years older than Kor.
“He’s all right,” I answer quietly. Tirigan’s eyes are closed now. Feigning sleep, the coward. “Bo’s looking for bandages and something better to clean his wounds.”
“Oh, good.” Vi nods and then looks like she intends to check on Tirigan’s wound herself. I stand up straighter and block her access to my brother. “There’s a giatrós close by, I’m goin’ to go into town and see if he’ll come back here with me. I think I’ve got some biscuits somewhere…”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” I reply quickly. “Honestly, I healed him pretty well before. I think if we just keep the wound clean and change his bandages regularly, he’ll be okay. The knife went in right at the edge. It’s really no more than a deep cut.”
Vi looks confused, bordering on challenging. I ready myself for an argument, but Bo reappears and whatever tension was forming snaps.
The petite Fotián carries bandages, a glass jar full of a clear liquid, and a couple towels in her hands.
“Got em’.” She hands me the items and steps back. “Avias needs help with dinner. Need anything else?”
“No.” I smile and thank her. “We’re good.”
Turning to Vi and trying to look like someone who doesn’t deserve the suspicious expression she’s giving me, I hold my smile. “I, um, I’m going to clean him up now.” I don’t make a move back towards the bed, hoping it’ll signal that I intend to check on Tirigan’s wound alone.
It takes her a moment, but Vi finally uproots her stance by Tirigan’s bed and lets out an aggrieved sigh. It reminds me so much of Calla, a lump forms in my throat.
“All right, dear.” She backs up towards the door Bo disappeared through. “Call if you need anything.”
“Okay, thank you, Vi. I mean it. Thank you so much.”
“Of course, love.” She puts on a guarded smile, letting herself linger in the doorway a second longer, then turns and leaves the room, closing the door behind her.
“Are you really asleep?” I ask incredulously.
Good. This will be easier if you’re awake. Can you turn over onto your side?
Tirigan doesn’t answer, but he does as I ask, grimacing the whole time. I climb onto the bed and sit behind him. It only takes a few more pulls to the knot in Tirigan’s makeshift bandage to untie it completely. He sucks in a painful breath as the last of the bandage leaves his skin. The gash that scars his torso is smaller, but still looks angry and inflamed.
It’ll be another day before it’s closed. Should be back to normal in a couple days. You’ll have to keep hobbling around for a little while, though, so they don’t get suspicious.
Can you imagine if John or Calla were here? They’d be absolutely beside themselves.
Yes. I imagine so. His thoughts, because they’re so cloudy and weak, allow just a glimmer of sadness.
You should get some rest. Finish healing.
Mhmm. Tirigan’s thoughts blur; he slips into sleep. It leaves me alone to stare at him in a way he would never be comfortable with if he were aware of it. Overwhelmed by ideas of how much worse everything could have been, I feel the sting of tears collect. If the knife had slammed into his heart instead of his gut... If I hadn’t been able to heal him…
Closing my eyes, I push away all thoughts of losing Tirigan and pull myself off of the bed. If I keep looking at him, it’s likely I’ll lose control and just start sobbing.
When I turn around, my vision is blanketed by a blurry landscape, full of light blues and greens. The painting hanging on the wall across from the bed has a small bridge traveling the width of it and a pond below, where white water lilies are interspersed with lily pads on the water’s surface. The pond’s in the foreground, and there are trees in the background. Some full, some weeping, some more blue than green. Sucking in a quiet breath of reverence, I silently hope my nightmare doesn’t make a reappearance. I don’t want to light the canvas on fire in my sleep.
“It’s not an original.” Oleander’s voice, soft and deep, comes from behind me. I turn to find him leaning in the door frame with his arms crossed.
“What?” I ask, startled but pleased to see him.
“The painting.” He takes a step inside the room and glances in Tirigan’s direction. “I copied it out of an Aplos art history book.”
“You painted this?” Oleander’s eyes widen with affronted amusement, making me quick to recant my surprise. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean— ”
“It’s all right.” He waves my apology away and comes to stand beside me. His eyes dance over his own work, scrutinizing. “I take that to mean you like it?”
“Yes,” I reply quietly, not wanting to wake Tirigan. “It’s beautiful.”
“I thought so too.” He places his hands in his pockets and sways in to nudge my shoulder. “That’s why I copied it.”
We stand in silence for a moment, staring up at the painting. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I find myself oddly comforted by his presence. That comfort is dashed when Oleander turns to me a few moments later, looking nervous and unsteady.
“I…” He stops, presses his lips together and looks at the floor between us. When his eyes meet mine again, and his jaw sets with determination, I feel a tremor run through my body. It settles in my stomach, like a stone tossed carelessly into the very pond we stand before.
“Charlie, I’ve never seen a Gyan run as fast as you.”
I can’t help the subtle drop of my jaw. “W-What?”
“When you ran to Tirigan after he… I’ve never seen a Gyan run like that. It was as if there was zero wind resistance. It was like you were flying.”
“Um…” My body pulls tight with tension, culminating in a tugging sensation in my chest that makes me feel short of breath.
I don’t know how to answer him, but Oleander looks at me like he fully expects me to have a very good explanation for my speed.
“I… I guess it was just the… you know… the adrenaline,” I stumble over the beginnings of my excuse, shrugging while I avoid his eyes. “I was pretty close by and, I mean, I was really scared for my brother.”
Oleander turns and looks back at the painting, and I hold my breath. He’s questioning what he saw, challenging his own memories to make them fit a story he can recognize. I stay silent, afraid to say anything that will make him question the moment further.
After a minute he turns to me again, his demeanor dramatically changed. He’s wearing a genuine smile again, and his eyes no longer examine mine.
“Well, I was sent in to call you to dinner, but if you’d prefer to stay with Tirigan, I can bring you a plate.”
It’s a tempting offer, hiding away where I can’t make any more mistakes and ruin our chances at finding our mother, but I don’t want to be rude. Tirigan’s likely to sleep through the night, so there’s really no point in staying in there with him. Besides, if he needs me I can hear my brother from wherever I am in the house.
“No, it’s all right. I’ll join you.”
“Wonderful,” Oleander says, pulling open the door next to the desk and gesturing me through it. “Right this way.”
I spare one last look at Tirigan before I leave the room. He lies with his hands over his chest, his eyes closed, the only movement the subtle rise and fall of his chest.
Oleander follows me into the dark, narrow hallway and closes the door behind him.
“Sorry for taking over your room,” I tell him, walking until the hallway ends in a slatted wooden door. I push it open as Oleander sighs dramatically behind me.
“Yes. I am incredibly put out. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Even though Oleander laughs, a jolt of guilt runs through me. He must see my regret in the sudden tension of my shoulders, because the Gyan’s laugh immediately disappears. “I’m kidding, of course.” He places a hand on my shoulder, essentially swallowing it whole and forcing me to look up at him. “I’m thrilled to give you my room, Charlie. Over the moon about it. Really! Are you in the market for a new limb, by chance? Because I’ve got a couple with your name on them.”
“My name? Really?” I tease, challenge in my eyes despite the kindness in his.
“Don’t believe me?” Oleander’s brow’s rises comically. “Have a look, yourself.”
The tall Gyan raises his arms out as much as he can in the small hallway, exposing his forearms. There, written in long, flourishing strokes, is my name.
“How?” The question escapes before I can think better of it. Oleander searches my baffled expression for what feels like several minutes. I haven’t a clue what he finds there, but whatever it is makes him smile ruefully.
“You really don’t know what you’re capable of. Do you?”
“I… I guess not. No,” I respond quietly. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, Charlie.” Oleander shakes his head. “You are who you are.”
We share another long look before movement on Oleander’s arm draws my attention back down. The letters of my name are slipping away, melting off his skin. When I look back up, Oleander gives me a shrug.
“You had your chance, Charlie. My limbs are now off the table, I’m afraid.”
Our wide grins follow us through the door and into the next room: the kitchen.
Soft yellow colors the walls and rich brown wooden counters extend from them. A large clay basin serves as a sink. There’s a wide cabinet on the same wall as the door and a round table with six chairs in the middle of the room. Vi pokes a fire in a wood stove while Avias pulls plates from one of the cabinets.
“I’ll have one of our resident Aérasians bring down the extra bed in Cyra’s room,” Vi says to me as I enter. She closes the oven and stands up straight. “She had trouble goin’ to sleep as a babe if one of us wasn’t in there with her, but it’s been awhile since she’s needed that.”
“Okay, thanks,” I reply, nodding and entering the room more fully. “I’d be more comfortable sleeping in there with him, just in case he needs anything.”
“Yes, of course,” Avias joins in. “Is Tirigan not well enough to eat?”
“He’s asleep,” I answer. “Probably won’t see him again until morning.”
“Oh good,” Kor replies from the kitchen’s other entryway. “Now I don’t have to ask one of you to make him a chair.”
“I was going to anyway,” Oleander tells us. “But if he isn’t coming to dinner, I’ll plan to do it after.”
“Fill your plates,” Avias announces, lifting a stack of plates into the air with a wave of his hand. He sends one in each of our directions. “It’s pasta with vegetables and Saneen cheese.”
“Lovely,” Oleander replies, clapping his hands together. “I’m famished.”
“Thank you,” I tell Avias as I pull my plate out of the air and fall in line behind Oleander. “It smells delicious.”
“Yeah Ave, like a regular soiled nappy,” Bo jokes as she enters the kitchen. “You’re a real master chef.”
“Don’t worry, I added extra mushrooms just for you, Bo,” Avias teases back. Bo’s answering glare shows us all how fond she is of the fungus.
“Small children!” Kor calls through the opening in the wall above the sink. “Food!”
Cyra and Robin come bounding into the room, all gummy smiles and bright eyes. Their parents corral them to the table to give them dinner. Vi holds Cyra in her lap, while Robin sits on his knees as he digs in. By the time we’re all sitting down, the youngest is already pushing her food away and escaping her mother’s clutches, running off into the other room once more.
“Can’t get her to eat more than a few things,” Vi explains with a shrug. “She doesn’t starve though, eats when she’s hungry enough.”
I nod, relating more to the situation than she knows.
Tirigan used to be impossible to feed. My parents weren’t strict with meals, but it was a generally accepted rule that we should eat what’s given to us and be happy about it. Tirigan didn’t really see it that way, though, and would sometimes go days without eating anything that didn’t grow from a tree. Eventually, we figured out his distaste for meat and the problems he had with his food touching, but since he wasn’t speaking to me with his mind yet, it wasn’t easy to put together.
I think about relaying this story, just to have something to say, but decide against it. That part of Tirigan is for him to share when, or even if, he’s ever ready.
There are a lot of things I could say over dinner, but I mostly keep quiet. I use that time to think and to plan.
I had three days on the train to think about the rogue knife that landed in Tirigan’s abdomen, and it was three days of going back and forth over whether or not I was the one who did it. I ruled out random bystanders with a thirst for violence, thinking that if there was a third party involved we would have seen them. Besides, why would some stranger try to kill Tirigan?
It doesn’t make any sense. Of course, neither does the idea that I stabbed Tirigan, but it’s the best theory so far. Avias says he didn’t do it, and I trust him. Tirigan obviously didn’t impale himself. I’m the only other contender considering Bo doesn’t have the power required, and I’m not sure if Oleander does. Even if he could do it by manipulating the knife through its organic components, Oleander doesn’t seem to have a violent bone in his body. The idea that I could have the ability to make subconscious decisions with my powers seems impossible, but my fire inducing nightmare suggests otherwise.
I have too many things to think about, too many problems to solve, and it feels like I don’t have enough time to do it all.
Trying to focus, while smiling and nodding at a joke Bo throws my way, I ignore the concerns that won’t help us find Calla. Finding our mother is still our first priority. I can spend time thinking about all our other problems later.
Tonight, I’ll continue to eat with my new adopted family, smiling when expected and nodding when prompted. I’ll be polite and grateful. Tomorrow, I’ll get to work.
“Charlie,” Bo asks, pulling me from my thoughts. “Wanna catch a flick tomorrow? Tomorrow’s the last day for Seven before the cinema has to return it to the Collective.”
“Yeah,” I reply. “I haven’t seen that one. Sounds good.”
Okay. The day after tomorrow. The day after tomorrow I’ll get to work.