Heather gave a little grunt of effort as she shrugged into the clothes Tau’mi had given her. They fit almost perfect but were a little roomy; after all, Tau’mi was a bit more robust than a skinny stick and bones girl like her.
Heather had just finished, looking herself over. Despite being generic working clothes, she could clearly tell that Tau’mi had a higher standard of living than her. Heather couldn’t remember the last time she had a clean apron, or when her dress filled out like this with multiple starched petticoats. It made her feel important, warm and a bit comfortable.
Exiting the small room Tau’mi had let her use, Heather jumped at there was another rumble of thunder outside. She whirled around in reflex, only to find nothing there. It was one thing if it just rained. She wasn’t a fan of storms, especially the thunder and lightning kind of storms. Gingerly she made her way to the living room.
For some reason, Elizabeth had dimmed most of of the lights in the house. She had enough to to see, but it was not the brightly lit beacon she had accustomed Elizabeth’s house with. Everything was bathed in an amber glow from an occasional lamp. She could hear the storm start to pick up outside, the rain falling harder on the roof in torrents.
“I don’t think Dad’s going to miss me,” she muttered under her breath in pity. A nagging feeling was in her chest that she was supposed to be home, but she’d probably be shivering on her cot with a few scraps to eat, probably having to put up with her father’s absence or yelling.
Heather walked into the living room, finding Tau’mi seated on the floor. That was odd, considering how Elizabeth was supposed to be a proper civilized woman. What was that about?
Tau’mi looked up at her, glad to see that she was doing much better. “You look great! Do they fit well?” She patted the ground next to her.
“They do. They fit okay, I don’t really dress in clothes like this back home.”
Heather looked at her strangely, carefully seating herself not too far from the girl. She did her best to smooth her now fuller skirts out as neatly and all proper-like as she could. However, this just made Tau’mi giggle in response. Why is she finding this funny?
“I know I don’t really show it, but I do appreciate you dragging me out of the rain back there.” Heather admitted in a soft voice. “Thank you.”
Tau’mi smiled. “It’s okay! You very a lonely girl. It makes you sad.”
Isn’t that the truth. Heather bit her lip, almost losing it right there. The words hit really deep. Here this Kashri that didn’t speak English well and was living a human lifestyle, and she knew more about her than most people in Ellowwood did. And she was willing to go out of her way to be nice to her!
Janus entered the room, a few drops of rain in his hair. He was carrying a hurricane lantern, placing it down on the floor before sitting next to Tau’mi.
“Mom’s making sure everything in the kitchen is fine.” He leaned forward a little anxiously. “She’ll be here soon.”
“For what? Just what exactly is going on?” Heather was truly confused. “Why are we on the ground in the living room, turning off all the lights and gathering in one spot?”
“You really don’t know?” Janus was in disbelief. He looked to Tau’mi for some support, who had a baffled expression as well.
“When storms are bad, we stay close together,” she explained. “If it gets severe and house gets damaged, it harder to help someone if separated. So we cluster close.”
Tau’mi clasped her hands together in emphasis.
“The lights are put only as needed so something doesn’t blow over and catch a fire, too. It’s really hard to explain, but because of the storms we get here, Mom’s drilled it into both our heads what to do.”
“But the floor-”
“We sit on the ground because we seem closer. When I went on my big journey, we’d spend lots of nights clustered around a campfire, within arms’ reach of each other. We mimic that now and then, the lamp instead of a fire. It’s our form of bonding.”
Tau’mi nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes. Indoor camping!”
Some light was shed on the happenings around her. Now it made sense to Heather why everyone seemed to lock up their shutters, overreacting to a simple storm. This was serious business.
It also explained why it was like she was living amongst people of a different culture. Elizabeth didn’t seem to fit the model “woman” as Heather was brought up to look up to.
As on cue, a loud rustling announced Elizabeth’s presence. The light from the lantern gave her an ominous look for a moment. The strong smell of spices, garlic and something emanated from a round tray in her hands.
“Good. I think we’re set for the evening,” Elizabeth announced with a sigh of relief. “How’s our guest doing?”
“A little displaced, but I’m fine. The clothes are great.” Heather didn’t feel like repeating her whole thank-you again, content with just being part of a group that wasn’t jeering her.
Elizabeth smiled, a gentle look that she’d not seen in a long while.
“I’m glad you’ve taken a fancy to them.I make it a point to make sure that the people under my roof are valued.” Elizabeth adjusted her posture, bending down a little to offer her the tray’s contents. “Please do enjoy your visit with us.”
Heather’s mouth watered at the sight of four steaming bowls of soup. The wonderful aroma filled her nostrils as she carefully claimed the earthenware bowl, along with a metal spoon. The bowl was warm to the touch but not enough to burn her.
“Thank you,” Heather held onto her bowl with one hand, digging into the delicious soup. A myriad of flavors greeted her tongue; cheese, onions and garlic. Bits of juicy mushrooms in between.
Elizabeth seemed pleased with her response, moving to give the rest of the soup to the other youngsters.
She relished the brief silence that followed, Elizabeth’s words repeating in her head. Valued? The persistence of the woman making sure she would be sheltered from a horrible storm. Her insistence that she was dressed properly with seemingly trivial articles of clothing such as stockings. And now she was given a square equal meal as if she was one of the family.
A pang of regret hit her, almost making her choke on the delicious soup. This would have to end. There was no way she would even receive a portion of this treatment back home.
“Are you all right?” Janus asked.
Heather looked up, gulping down a mouthful. Do I look that troubled?
“I’m fine,” she tried to lie. However her heart didn’t agree. “I’m just thinking about home…”
“Don’t worry, as soon as the storm lets up, we’ll get you back.” Elizabeth let the empty tray drop to her side, starting back to the kitchen.
No! Heather wanted to protest. That wasn’t it. She wished she could trust the woman or her “children” enough to tell them what she feared. All she could do was keep straight lips, bringing her knees to her chest and scooting a little closer to Tau’mi.
Elizabeth returned with four cups, this time the smell of coffee filling the room. She passed it around, the coffee flavored with cream and sugar. Heather put her cup aside, waiting for hers to cool.
The woman finally seemed to be at the end of her serving, sinking to the floor in a heap of skirts. Elizabeth adjusted the lamp to a more centric position, drawing the distance between her and the youths.
“I didn’t expect this storm to be so bad this time around,” Elizabeth murmured to herself. “Usually its a lot later in the month.”
“This is a recurring event?” Heather asked.
“Yes, once a year. Big wind storm with rain.”
“As Tau’mi said, its a large storm. It’s because of the passing of Ellowwood near a large persistent storm system around this point of the year. Thankfully we’re never drawn close, but we feel the effects from this distance. If you’re not prepared, you can get seriously hurt or more.”
“We never had storms like that where we came from,” Heather admitted. “It always seemed calm and easygoing.”
“We’re near the edge of civilization, actually.” Janus piped up. “Head any more south and its a wasteland of nothing. No islands or anything.”
Heather was quiet, visualizing the storm in her head. She had heard about them, but had never thought that they’d be situated close enough to take shelter from. She trembled a little, hugging her knees tighter.
“Strange things happen are known to happen when these kinds of storms comes around,” Elizabeth settled herself more comfortable, palms pushing into her big skirts.
“Oh?” That perked Tau’mi’s attention. “What kind of things, Miss Leesbeth?”
“Unexplainable things, Tau’mi. Frightening, bone-chilling things…things that shouldn’t exist in a place like this.”