“Could you have given me less information, Danika?” I muttered sourly as I scanned the guest room.
My house is kept, almost compulsively, neat as a pin. However, it was May, we lived in Florida, and the last time the room was aired out was in December. Since neither of the girls in my care ever ventured into the smaller space, and it was only utilized when we had guests, the air was somewhat stale and the linens needed a good turning down.
I leaned my right shoulder against the white door frame, and my (still) bare feet were crossed at the ankles as I considered the room. I’d kept it gender neutral, since I never knew who might be dropping in. Even though I wasn’t in the Clan because of my status as a half-kin, I was still expected to host visitors at the drop of the hat if the Clan demanded.
“Boy, girl, young, teenager…Something would have been better than nothing.” I blew out a sigh and walked across the plush grey carpet to strip the bed of the blankets and linens. The wrought iron bed frame was done in a curling design that matched the comforter set, which had dark grey vines superimposed on lighter grey in the center and ruched coral runners along the sides.
“I guess I’ll keep this set on the bed until we can get out and get them what they prefer,” I mused aloud to no one in particular. Call me crazy, but I liked to talk out loud while I worked. It helped me catch things I might otherwise miss, like when I bake at my bakery.
Another sigh almost escaped but I refrained. Moping never helped anyone, and while I would have enjoyed spending time in my garden on my day off, instead of cleaning a room, brooding wouldn’t get the task done faster. At least my gardening clothes, the faded grey shirt proclaiming, ‘Peace, Love, Frosting,’ and the cut-off jeans were well suited for cleaning. They might not have inspired admiration in Danika, but not much I did, would.
“Not to mention,” I chided myself, “if you’d been that set on gardening you’d have been out there instead of puttering in your kitchen.”
With that firmly in mind I gathered everything up in the comforter and walked across the upstairs to the laundry room. I tossed in the sheets and pillow cases, started up the washer, and then headed back to the room to dust and clean the windows. It wasn’t by any means dirty, but whoever they were, they deserved better than furniture covered in even a small amount of dust. I checked the closet to make sure there were hangers, and in bottom right-hand drawer of the dresser for towels for the shower.
I was sweating just a touch and my mouth was as dry as if I’d stuck cotton balls in it, so I headed downstairs for some iced tea. Sweet tea had never been my preference, and may the Dark Goddess strike me down for such a blasphemous opinion when I lived in the south.
The time over the stove let me know one of the girls would be home in about half an hour from school, and the other would be a couple hours behind. A happy little chime sounded from upstairs, so I dashed up to put the linens in the dryer and the comforter in the washer. When I came back down the front door opened and Wilhelmina—“Ugh, I hate that! Call me Mina.”—walked though the door.
At my raised eyebrow she rolled her eyes, a slightly darker brown than Danika’s and very different from my electric blue ones, and gave a typical teenage sigh.
“It’s Wednesday, you know—early release?” she said, tone full of, ‘duh,’ though barely holding the word itself back.
“Ah, so it is. Do you have any homework?” I prompted, and she shrugged, which meant she did.
She was going through a typical teen phase of rebellion, and I was doing my best to keep her on track. Those years of hormonal-induced craziness shouldn’t be responsible for potentially upsetting the rest of someone’s life. She hates me for it now, but she’ll appreciate it later. Or at least I hoped so.
“There are some cookies on the counter,” I said, and her eyes sharpened in interest as she turned toward the kitchen, “but only the usual two before dinner,” I finished with a reminder.
In a show of gratitude for my delicious confections she didn’t roll her eyes, and nodded as she flip-flopped her way into the kitchen. Her strides were long, as she was lean and tall as most of our race were, and had come into a shadow of the grace she’d experience once she was older. Right now, though, she could only lament about being taller than most of the boys at school. She was also still getting used to the length of her limbs, and was more gangling than graceful for the time being.
Her long, thick cinnamon brown hair was braided and pinned up to stay off her neck and back; it wasn’t practical in the heat to leave it down, as she quickly learned when she decided to grow it out. Her jean shorts were short enough to taunt the school rule about such things, and her shirt was barely long enough to touch the top of her shorts when she raised her arms. All little rebellions I’d decided not to openly wage war on. There were worse things she could express an unfavorable opinion about.
She unceremoniously dropped her backpack near the heavy oak table and meandered into the kitchen to grab the allotted two cookies and some milk. Moseying back over to the table she flopped into a chair and looked me over.
“You usually do gardening on your day off, but you’re not covered in dirt, and—“ she started to continue but her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed at the chair where Danika had sat. In much the same way Danika’s had, her eyes flashed over to a ruby red that glittered dangerously.
“What was that Goddess-forsaken bitch doing here?”
“First, language,” I said, my voice firm as I caught her eyes with my own. I might act as an older sister might because, let’s face it, I’m not their real parent, but they knew I had certain rules I was unyielding about. I might end up watching younger children, and I didn’t need the older ones teaching the younger ones bad habits.
Mina looked away first and nodded. I blew out a breath and sat down in the chair closest to her.
“While I won’t refute the apt description, I’d suggest you don’t say such things to her face, or where anyone who might report back to her can hear you. At best she’ll discipline us both, at worst she’ll move you to another place,” I said quietly, and let the information sink in. She slumped down in her chair at the reminder and it made my heart hurt.
Half-kins were not allowed to live in the Clanslands, or wherever the Clan had taken up residency. They were essentially fostered out to other designated, adult half-kins; not all of whom were as nice about the situation as I tried to be. I knew from experience. Add that to the fact they only got two visits a year from their parent(s) if they were Drakken, and rarely if ever knew the other parent, it tended to make for an unpleasant childhood. They couldn’t go to live with the other parent, especially if they were human, because of the powers they’ll come into. If the other parent is a Drakken of a different Clan as their mother, the other Clans all have the same rules: no half-kins.
It was a heartbreaking situation for most involved, and the ones impacted the most were always the kids. This is why I tried to tread that line between authority figure and understanding older friend as best I could.
“I was going to wait until Talitha got home, but I guess I don’t mind telling it twice. Provost Danika was here to inform me we are getting another charge,” I said, and Mina perked up a little at this. Her eyes had flowed back to their usual color, and a small place inside me relaxed. Teenage years for Drakkens can be a dangerous and harrowing experience. Think hormones in overdrive, along deadly powers coming into full-force.
Thank the Goddess I didn’t have any males, as their transition tended to be worse.
“Do you know anything about them?” she asked, and then her delicate brow furrowed. “Aren’t you only supposed to have two of us at a time?”
“Usually, but it seemed as though this might be a special circumstance. And no, I don’t know anything about them,” I replied, and almost sighed again.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Mina sat up and squared her shoulders back, a new determination in her demeanor.
My heart swelled with not a small amount of pride, and I gave her a half smile. Yes, I’m an adult and she’ll rebel against me because of that, and she’ll resent the Clan because of their rules. But when the chips were down and she saw another kid in a situation like hers, she’ll give her all to make it as good for them as she could.
“I don’t know anything about them—not even if this is temporary or not—and though I doubt they’d send a male child here given the circumstances, I can’t even say what their gender is. We’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for more information, and then take them out to see what they’d like for their room,” I said, mentally retrieving how much it cost to do the girls’ rooms when they’d first arrived.
“Does this mean we can stay home from school tomorrow? To help, of course,” she quickly added after the hopeful query.
I gave a snort of laughter, to let her know she hadn’t fooled me, but her conviction earlier to help the unknown child also made me smile wide.
“I think that would be best,” I assented.
She grinned in response and picked up a cookie to munch on. The dryer chimed, indicating I needed to shake out the sheets to make sure everything dried thoroughly instead of in patches.
“But you still have to do your homework,” I said, and stood to go up the stairs. My statement was met with a disappointed groan and I could only laugh. My mood and heart lighter, I could only think, Maybe with the girls’ help this won’t be too bad—for us or the kid. Just in case, though, I kept my fingers crossed.