|I always liked a good storm.
||[Jan. 13th, 2005|05:11 pm]
(lives between pages)
Title: How the Blossoms Grow
Film: The Village
Characters: Ensemble; Finton Coin/nameless side character, here presented as Jesse Lynch, who I have more or less created from scratch.
Notes: This is for Randy, who gave voice to something that I had wondered only in vague passing at the time I saw the movie. If you know the paradigm – and I refuse to tell you; I don't spoil Shyamalan films for people, as I think there is a special place in Hell for those who do – then this musing will make sense. I have written this story in such a way that it does not give away the entire ending. In a microcosm under those circumstances, how would homosexuality be viewed? If the tendency is in anyone, whom? The clear choice seemed to be Finton, as he's the only close friend of Lucius's that we get to know outside the triangle of young protagonists. There's another young man he's seen with on significant occasions, and their posture is close, secretive. In this world of adult secrets, it makes sense that the youth would have their own. I've taken the title from the last discernible line of Ivy's lullaby.
Summary: What has been hushed, silent as red petals laid in earth, and saved.
They are playing Touch the Posts.
One day, Jamison says, they'll stand on the old stump after dark, but he reckons that twelve is not old enough for that. For now, the posts will do. They are tall and harmless in the sunshine, like naked trees with golden, fluttering arms. Sometimes, the other boys climb them. Lucius is faster than a squirrel.
"I'll race you to the flag!" yells Christop Crane.
Noah Percy is in the shade of the tree, too, laughing. He claps his hands, waiting for the show.
Lucius Hunt rubs his sunburned nose and frowns at the post.
"We'll scratch the new paint," he says quietly, and steps into the shade.
They are not supposed to be here. Mr. Walker gives them an hour each afternoon for play, and they usually stay in the schoolyard. But today, Jesse Lynch gave everybody his most secret smile, shading his green eyes from the sun, and ran. Ivy caught him first, with the rest of them tagging along behind. Afterward, Jamison suggested the posts.
Some of the children are afraid to cross. Ivy hangs back, uncertain, clutching her cane with both hands. Sometimes, she looks at Lucius as if she can see him. Noah looks at them both, always one and then the other, his dark eyes quick as darts.
"You're a coward," Christop says, idly picking a piece of bark off the tree.
Lucius picks a different piece and flicks it onto Christop's shirt.
"Good," Noah says, grinning from ear to ear, laughing so hard he is bent over. "That's really good," he adds, wiping his nose on the back of his hand. "Capital!"
"No," Christop sulks, crossing back into the sunshine. "That's mean."
"You should not have done that, Lucius," Ivy says, but she is trying not to laugh.
Lucius is looking at her, but he does not say anything. He sits down under the tree and studies the ground. The first leaves are beginning to fall, pale green and bright yellow. When the Bad Color arrives, they will not be allowed outside alone for weeks.
Noah is not paying attention to Ivy. He is still looking at Lucius, and he is smiling as he smiles when he thinks he has a secret, but his secrets are easy to find out, because he wears them on his face like a mask. Today, his secret is that Lucius is beautiful.
Bored, Jamison begins climbing the post, his mouth set with determination. Two of his friends follow, glancing impatiently after him, waiting to see where his fingertips touch. Jesse is standing beside another post, curiously picking at the bright splotch of paint. His hair curls when he is not looking, twisting like golden thread.
Suddenly, Noah tackles Lucius. The boys wrestle often, but this is different.
"Noah – " Lucius chokes " – what – "
"I got you!" Noah crows with glee, pinning Lucius's arms. "I got you!"
Ivy takes a step toward them, cane outstretched. Her mouth is stern.
"I got – "
Lucius chokes like he is surprised when Noah gives him a messy kiss on the mouth. Ivy is yelling at both of them, telling them to stop this instant, and Jesse is watching now, his eyes like spring grass following every movement. He follows to where Finton is watching from behind the tree – watching all of them.
Finton closes his eyes tightly, hoping that his secret is not as easy to see as Noah's.
* * *
Lucius woke Finton up early by tossing pebbles at his window. Finton had to jump out of bed and wave his arms wildly to get Lucius to stop. Last time, Finton's mother noticed the scratches. She made him scrub them with an old rag dipped in hot water and soapflowers. His arm ached for a week, and he refused to talk to Lucius, which was all right. He had Jesse to talk to instead, at school and on long walks through the pasture.
Finton pokes his hook through a wriggling nightcrawler, then drops it quickly to dangle.
"They cannot feel it," Jesse reassures him, adjusting a smaller worm on his own. "Father says so. They don't have brains like we do."
"But they have skin," Finton says, and casts his line to the gently flowing water. "We feel it mostly in our skin, don't we?"
"Yes," Lucius says. "Don't think about it."
"I wish I could not," Finton sighs. He watches his nightcrawler sink. What worms do not seem to have is blood, and a good thing, too.
Jesse gives his line a couple of jerks and sits down on the mossy bank. They never ask Christop to come because he complains about the wet spots on his trousers. Finton thinks that he is silly, but Lucius thinks that he is ridiculous. None of them need to say it.
"Come on," Jesse says, patting the ground. "What are you waiting for?"
"A bite," Finton answers, but what he is really waiting for is the moment when Jesse will turn his head just so, and his profile will be reflected off the silvery water.
"Bad day," Lucius mutters under his breath, dragging in his empty line.
"How do you know?" Jesse asks, indignant. "We've only been here two hours."
"He just does," Finton says, because it is true that Lucius has a way of simply knowing things. He sits down beside Jesse anyway, giving his line a sharp tug as precaution.
"I am going to catch the biggest trout in this pond," Jesse says, determined. When he is like this, the shine in his eyes softens to dreaming. His secrets are hard to find.
"They say," Finton says cautiously, staring across to the other side, where some girls are wading, "that Those We Don't Speak Of sometimes come and dip in their long claws – "
"Hush," Lucius says, and casts his line again.
" – and take the biggest ones away," Finton finishes, because Jesse is listening to him.
"There must be some left," Jesse says. "The giant. The smartest one there is."
"His eyes are like tea saucers, I bet," Finton adds, grinning, tucking his hair behind his ears. His mother will say that it is getting too long, but he likes it this way.
"There's only one I know of," Lucius says behind him, and Finton is sprawled face-first in the shallow water before he realizes what is happening.
"That's not fair!" he sputters, struggling to sit up, fingers clawing at weedy muck.
Lucius just looks at him, mouth quirked, which means this is revenge.
"But it's very funny," Jesse says, grinning, and sets aside his pole. He crawls forward, hand outstretched. "Here," he says, his other hand buried in squelchy moss, knees soaked.
Finton takes Jesse's hand with slippery fingers and thinks he may not talk to Lucius for another week.
* * *
Finton would have gone ice-skating with Lucius and Ivy, but Noah is with them, wearing his two favorite secrets. Noah and Ivy chatter a lot, and Finton does not know what to say to them. Lucius is painfully silent around them, not at all like when he is alone with Finton in the guard tower. Jesse is uncomfortable with Noah's laughter, as if he fears it is for him.
The way to Resting Rock is blanketed in crisp, white snow, and Jesse's feet are the first to mark it. Finton follows a few steps behind, trying to leave as few of his own tracks as possible. He hates to ruin new snow, and he wishes that he could bottle the steam of his breath. His favorite season is winter, when there is nothing but clean, safe white.
There are no drills at this time of year, and for the first time, Finton regrets it.
Finton has been searching for ways of being alone, but the village is small and open, and passing unseen is difficult. He has watched the married Elders walking the fields at sunset – some of them hand in hand, some of them arm in arm. Once, he saw Mr. Percy kiss his wife in the greenhouse. In Finton's opinion, kisses are elusive things, sometimes wanted and sometimes not. He has seen both, and he fears that the secret to either is secrecy itself.
"Ho!" Jesse calls over his shoulder, nose pink and eyes dazzling. "Are you coming?"
"Give me a moment," Finton pants, struggling through a knee-high drift. "I have lost your trail!"
"You could make your own, you know. It isn't that hard. Powder if it's an inch."
"My legs are already frozen through," Finton says, struggling up beside him, knowing that he probably sounds miserable. What he does not like is the cold.
Jesse reaches the Rock first. Finton watches him scoop away snow until there is enough space for both of them to sit. Jesse is slimmer than he is, younger by a year, but it will still be cramped. They sit down without a word, trousers and coat sleeves brushing.
"I long for warm weather," Jesse says unexpectedly. "Look," he adds, pointing down the hill and into the distance, "you can see the pond. I think that everyone is out today."
"Even your parents?" Finton asks. Jesse's hand is close, and his own hand is twitching on his knee. He has seen the holding of hands in less private places, and realizes how alone they are. He cannot remember the last time they even came close.
"No," Jesse says, meeting Finton's eyes with an easy smile. "Mama's caught a cold."
"I am sorry to hear it," Finton says, honest. He wonders if Jesse helps his father cook for her. He imagines that the steam of Jesse's breath is rolling off a fresh pot of stew.
"She will be well in a day," Jesse says, laughing. "It happens every year after the first storm. Father calls it her Snow Sickness. She would die without it, he says."
"You ought to have worn gloves," Finton blurts, too late to take it back.
Ever grinning, Jesse shrugs.
"It's cold all right," he says, "but I will survive. You worry more than you ought, Finton."
"I cannot help it," he says, and looks away. The passing years have not hidden his secret. They have only made it worse. It is his Snow Sickness, he wants to say.
When Jesse takes his hand, he thinks he might die all the same.
* * *
Finton is potting marigolds when the Drill Bell begins to toll.
It is not real, he knows, for he has been through drills a hundred times since childhood, but the first sound of the ringing still strikes fear into his heart. He drops the plant and clumsily peels out of his gardening gloves, quickly heading for the door.
In his haste, he almost bumps into Mrs. Hunt. Finton mumbles an apology and stumbles toward the nearest house. Her sharp eyes are just like her son's. For a moment, Finton wonders if Lucius is in the smithy. If he is, they will not be in the same shelter.
The doctor's house is cool even in summer, smelling of herbs and alcohol. The floorboards are rough, and he remembers the way they felt under his soles on the day his mother sent him with some eggs to trade for dried willow bark. Her face had been pale and pinched.
"Quickly," Victor says, setting a hand on his shoulder, drawing him inside. He lets everyone call him by his first name, and his calm voice is easy to trust.
"Mind your step, dear," adds his wife as she lifts the trapdoor.
Under the floor is cool and shadowy, and there are crates scattered for sitting on. This space is larger than the one under Finton's house, and he imagines that his mother and father are huddled there alone. Victor takes his wife's place at the trapdoor, and she follows Finton down. He finds a seat in one dusty corner, peering anxiously up. There is another set of footsteps, maybe even two. Christop appears, as twitchy as ever, and Kitty Walker is behind him.
"Wait," calls a familiar voice from outside. "Is there room?"
"Always," Victor says, gesturing as Christop and Kitty stumble down the stairs. "Quickly, young man. Quickly!"
Jesse dashes through the door, out of breath. He is not afraid.
"Hello," he says, taking the stairs in one leap. Victor's wife gives him a disapproving look as he pulls a crate up beside Finton. "Those sheep," he says seriously, brushing off his hands as Victor closes the trapdoor over them, "are horrible. They've chewed my elbow clean through, can you believe it?" He fumbles for Finton's hand in the dark, guiding it to the ragged hole in his coat sleeve. "See?"
No, Finton almost says, because he cannot, and the skin of Jesse's arm is warm under his fingertips. He wonders if this is what the world is like for Ivy, and hears her sister taking shallow gasps in the darkness.
He takes his hand away, but Jesse catches his fingers, holding them fast. They have done this for two winters, and now for two summers. Finton is no longer so fond of gloves.
Jesse twines their fingers and sets his free hand against Finton's cheek, leaning so close that Finton can smell his breath. He has been chewing mint leaves again.
When their mouths touch, it is the briefest brush of lips. Careful not to make a sound, they rest like this for long moments, listening to the bell's distant clamor. Finton thinks that his heart might escape his chest if something does not happen soon.
Jesse leans in just a bit, and his fingers slip noiselessly into Finton's hair.
Over the hammering of his heart, Finton tells himself that if this never happens again, he will remember that Jesse tasted like mint, and that he is even more beautiful when his fair, smiling face is hidden from sight.
* * *
They are painting the posts.
The yellow cloak is made of heavy wool, and it itches Finton's cheeks and neck. It is too hot to be wearing them, but to go without is too great a risk. He dips his paintbrush into the bucket and adds a second coat of yellow paint to the dried swath he painted a few minutes ago. There is no breeze, and the woods are too quiet.
Someone is watching him, but he knows whose eyes they are.
"I've finished," Jesse says, stepping up beside him. He walks more quietly than Lucius.
"This is my last," Finton replies, carefully adding a third coat. "What about the others?"
"They have gone, except for Lucius."
"He is too curious for his own good," Finton says, dropping his paintbrush in the bucket. He turns around to face Jesse, and Lucius is visible on the far side of the clearing, his yellow cloak fading into the shade at the edge of the woods. He always turns back.
"He will be all right," Jesse says, green eyes restless. There is an impatience about him today that Finton does not recognize – except in himself. Finton's stomach turns in a tight, thrilled knot. He knows that he is seeing Jesse's deepest secret.
"We should go," he says carefully. He fills each word with meaning.
"Yes," Jesse agrees, and his eyes grow suddenly bright.
"There – " Finton falters, walking faster " – there is no one at home today. My parents have gone to help repair the bridge."
"I believe that my father has done so as well," Jesse says calmly, but his breathing is fast. "And my mother is helping Mrs. Hunt decorate the Hall for harvest."
The Lynch house is closest. It is plain wood with dark brown shutters and sky-blue curtains that flutter when the wind blows. There is only one door, but they do not lock it behind them. Finton knows that this is not a drill or an emergency, and his spine tingles.
The rumor is that Kitty Walker has gotten in trouble for walking alone with Jamison.
He wonders if he will get in trouble for this.
"This way," Jesse says, even though Finton knows where his room is. Up the ladder, into the loft. He has been up here to play checkers and to tell ghost stories. There is a window overlooking the grassy slope of the meadow. Finton does not look outside.
Jesse gives the ladder a push. It falls to the floor with a clatter.
"If anyone asks," he says, wiping his hands on his trousers, "we got trapped. It is the truth."
"Yes," Finton replies, and he cannot help smiling. "Someone will have to rescue us, and their story will make it even more true."
With a giddy grin, Jesse kisses him. It is slow and soft, teasing, but Finton knows that there is more. He pulls Jesse up against him, gently parting his lips. Jesse does not make a sound, but he threads his fingers in Finton's hair. He is the only person who does that. The kisses turn deep and slow, and when they part to breathe, Jesse whispers his name.
After a while, standing grows uncomfortable. They have done this sitting down, under cover of darkness at Resting Rock, but never for long, and in the greenhouse, and in the guard tower. Their shifts are meant to be solitary, but sometimes Lucius or Jesse sits with Finton, and sometimes Finton sits with Jesse. Lucius takes his shifts alone.
Finton tightens his hold on Jesse's waist. Please, he thinks, unable to find words, drawing his breath in a sigh across Jesse's cheek. Please, we are up here alone.
"Come on," Jesse whispers, taking hold of Finton's hands. He takes a few steps back, drawing Finton with him. He is going to run into the bed, but that is his idea, his secret.
Finton crawls onto the mattress beside him and thinks that he is ready to share his own.
"I – " he stammers, combing his fingers through Jesse's short, wavy hair and onto the soft pillowcase " – I think you are – "
"I think you need to be quiet now," Jesse says, reaching up, and shows him why.
Finton has been aching for a long time, but never so badly as now. They kiss some more, but the secret is telling itself in touches. Jesse has pale, strong hands, and they are cold and slightly rough against Finton's sides and stomach. He is untucking Finton's shirt.
"Stop," he whispers against Jesse's ear, not because he wants him to stop, but because this secret is terrible and wonderful, too much like a dream to be true.
"Why?" Jesse asks. He has never sounded so hurt, but his hands withdraw.
Finton catches his wrists, torn.
"That is not what I meant," he says quickly. "That is, I w – I would like – "
While Jesse blinks at him, confused, he does what he wants to do, which is to do the same thing that Jesse has just done to him, and to discover that Jesse is as pale under his clothing as anywhere else, and that he is slim and warm when their bodies press together.
"Do you think," Finton says, his voice shaking as badly as his hands, which are untying Finton's underthings, "that this is what…in the high meadow…"
"Yes," Finton gasps, eyes closed tightly, swallowing as the cool air touches his shame. "I am sure this…is exactly what they do."
"Then it is romantic," Jesse murmurs, nuzzling his cheek, and touches him.
Finton knows that he must keep silent, so he lets his heart burst to blooming instead.
* * * *
There is restlessness everywhere.
Finton draws the yellow cloak tightly about himself, shuddering into the corner for warmth. Lucius is not with him tonight. Jesse is at home, because he promised his mother that he would not go wandering at dusk with things such as they are. The skinned animals have frightened everyone – even the Elders, who are never shaken.
Only Noah laughs, clapping his delight for all to hear.
Now, and only now, does Finton envy him.
A sudden noise from below catches his attention. It is probably someone passing in the night, in a hurry to get home, but the sound comes again, startling him. His legs protest as he pushes himself forward, crawling for the trapdoor. He opens it and peers into the dark.
He is about to let it fall when the Bad Color passes below him.
Finton does not have time to think about the bump that the trapdoor has left on his head, or to hope that there is no one who is not safely home for the night. He must ring the Warning Bell, and so he does. The sound will turn restlessness into chaos.
As long as Finton has been alive, this has never happened.
He lets go of the rope and latches the trapdoor, then retreats to his corner, trembling. He cannot leave the guard tower. It is the way of things, and the Elders have always reassured the children that Those They Don't Speak Of cannot climb.
Finton is not so sure about that. A thing with claws may find purchase where it wishes.
Below him, the wooden ladder groans.
Finton closes his eyes tightly and tries to think of a prayer, but what comes to his lips is a string of pleas: save me, save us, save me, save us. There is a thud at the trapdoor, and another, and another. Helpless to do anything else, Finton shouts.
"Get away from here! Get away!"
"It is only me!" someone roars, voice so twisted by fear that it is unrecognizable, but it is human.
Finton scuttles to the trapdoor, fumbling with the latch, taking deep breaths. This is someone he knows, someone who has gotten trapped outside and has nowhere to go. This is –
"You are such an idiot," Jesse says, angry, but his eyes desperately ask, Are you all right? He is not wearing a yellow cloak. He is not even wearing his hat.
"What are you doing here?" Finton demands, latching the door again. "You could have been killed!"
"What do you think I'm doing here?"
Finton is immediately sorry for asking, because Jesse is holding him now. He hopes that wrapping the cloak around both of them is apology enough. He hopes that the creatures will sense their secret and pass them by.
He hopes that Lucius is right.
* * *
In defiance of the marks on every door, the wedding commences.
Kitty makes a lovely bride, but Christop is an unlikely groom. None of them were shocked to hear of Lucius's refusal. During the service, Finton sits between his father and Mr. Walker, who is quieter than his wife, but clearly overwhelmed. He sees Jesse a few rows ahead, seated with his parents. Jesse looks back once, half smiling. Lucius's look from across the room is stony. Ivy sits with her hands folded, beaming for all to see.
At the banquet following, the mood is much lighter. Noah is finally let to caper and laugh, and Finton slips away when his father leaves to take his mother, who is sick with slight fever, home. He slips onto the bench beside Jesse without announcing his arrival.
"Shock me to my grave!" Jesse says, laughing. He grasps Finton's hand under the white tablecloth, then hisses softly for quiet. Mr. Walker is about to announce a toast.
Finton raises his glass to the bride, then turns and raises it to Jesse. He is not sure what he is proposing, but he hopes that he is wearing his secrets well today. He has more of them than he has ever had, and many of them are Jesse's, too.
Eyes alight, Jesse touches his glass to Finton's and drinks deeply.
Afterward, there is lounging about on the grass, and dancing. Finton sits with his father for a while and entertains the little neighbor boy who likes to come begging his mother for her candied violets. Ivy and Mrs. Clack are sitting together, heads bent close in conversation. They paint a somber picture against the backdrop of gaiety.
"Son, you should dance," Finton's father says at length, and gets up. "I am going to tend to your mother. Mind that you are on guard tonight."
"Yes, Father," Finton says, and watches him leave with the blanket aflutter on his arm.
It is crowded, but the Hall is fine when cleared for dancing. The wives and young women have put up flowers and paper chains, and there is music from the village's only piano. Mrs. Masterson gives lessons to the younger children, because she is afraid that no one will play when she is gone. Amongst those of Finton's age, only Kitty has learned to play, but as the bride, her duties are greeting and dancing. Christop is not letting anybody touch him.
Finton finds an empty seat along the wall and continues to watch. The laughter is heady, dizzying. He sees Mr. Walker speaking with Mrs. Hunt, whose heart is in her hand.
"I do feel sorry for her," Jesse says quietly, out of nowhere.
"We'll see who digs whose grave," Finton says, and reaches for his hand. Let it be taken for greeting. He will do what Edward Walker cannot.
Surprised, Jesse squeezes Finton's fingers and doesn't let go for at least half a minute.
"I heard you are in the tower tonight," Jesse says, taking the seat beside Finton when it opens. "Will Lucius be with you?"
"No," Finton says. "Has your mother forgotten her anger?"
"No," Jesse says, his jaw tight, "but I have told her that I will be with you tonight."
His tone of voice sends a shiver down Finton's spine.
"I will see you there," Finton whispers, touching the back of his hand. "Dusk is falling. Bring blankets. It – " he adds hastily, glancing around the room " – has been very cold."
"It has," Jesse says, and sends him off with a promise.
On his way to fetch the cloaks, Finton spots one of the animals. It is dangling from a doorway, grotesque in the torchlight. He hears the nervous whicker of a horse from the direction of the barn. Throwing on a cloak, he drapes the other over his arm and flees the storage shed. He does not look from side to side. There is more death, more blood.
Somewhere, a child screams.
He runs to the tower, gasping for breath when he reaches the ladder. The trapdoor is open above him, and Jesse's anxious face is waiting.
"There is something out there," Jesse breathes, bundling into the second cloak.
Finton latches the trapdoor with unsteady hands, nodding.
"It has raided the barn," Jesse continues, face ashen. "I saw the door swinging."
Finton rises, fighting a swell of anger. There is no fairness in any of it. They have never harmed the creatures, this he knows. And the Elders say that the creatures have never harmed them, except for once. Lucius told him the story one evening, his quiet voice full of contempt. They have performed no act of aggression like Mr. Nicholson and his brother once did, yet night after night come attacks.
Jesse is already beside him, one hand on Finton's shoulder.
"The Elders will stop this," he says reassuringly. "They will find it, and they will kill it. I think it is no coyote, but one of the creatures that has madness."
"It is all madness," Finton whispers, turning to him. "I wish that it were over."
"Soon," Jesse says. His eyes are as green as summer by torchlight, and Finton believes him.
Jesse has brought a few old blankets, which they spread on the rough floorboards. Finton knows that there is nothing that they can do except wait until morning. They did not even need to ring the Warning. The children have done it for them. For a while, they sit side by side, curled together for warmth. Finton is half asleep when Jesse kisses him.
The wind is wild, and there is groaning and growling in the trees like Finton has never heard before. Jesse strokes his cheek, careful and slow, and says everything will be fine. They have kissed here before, but never this. The chill seeps into everything; the blankets are not enough. Lying on one and wrapped in the other, they undo only what clothing they must. Jesse is fierce, almost protective, as he clasps Finton to him, whispering that he loves him, until death –
Finton cannot breathe, cannot breathe, but what fills him is light, purest life.
* * *
Christop comes with the news the next afternoon. His face is as white as his wrinkled shirt, and his voice trembles as he says that Lucius Hunt may die of blood loss before morning. He says that Kitty is wild with grief and that her sister is to go to the Towns.
"They have asked for an escort," Christop says hollowly. "I am going."
Finton drops the bucket that he is carrying. Anger spills from him like water onto the grass.
"If no one else will come with you – "
"We are only to go so far," Christop explains, his voice colored with faint hope.
Numb, Finton packs quickly. He must not tell Jesse that he is going, or he will lose his nerve.
Ivy is waiting for them at Resting Rock. Against her pale cheek, the yellow cloak cuts a cruel, sorrowful line. She rises to meet them, her eyes as vacant as they have never been. Without a word, she strides between them, something clutched firmly in one hand.
Not even Ivy's promise of magic in those small, pathetic stones is sufficient to cast off the pall of Covington Woods. The air is damp and frozen, thick with mist, and each trail resembles the next. Spidery branches reach for them, taunt them, catching hair and snagging clothing. Before long, Finton can no longer hear Christop behind him.
Ivy watches her brother-in-law leave them with an expression of despair.
Finton feels a part of himself flee in terror, but his body, stiff and weary, continues.
That evening, an ice storm arrives with the descending dusk. It stings their skin and their eyes, merciless, as the two of them struggle to tie up the burlap for shelter. Exhausted and improperly shielded, they collapse underneath and sit in silence. Finton can no longer hold back tears, and he can hear Ivy sobbing to herself.
Lucius may be dead.
Before morning, they may be dead.
Finton curls in on himself, closing his eyes. He cannot take it. This is not what Jesse meant the night before; this is not the kind of death and parting he intended. Christop is a coward, and Finton knows that he is also. If he had no one to live for, perhaps he would care less. Perhaps he might possess Ivy's single-minded determination if it were Jesse who lay dying.
The thought turns his stomach to rot.
When the storm lifts, they crack their frozen limbs and rise. The burlap is difficult to dismantle, for the storm has iced the ropes to the trees. Once it is folded safely in Ivy's pack, Finton steels his nerves and takes a breath. He must tell her. He cannot do this.
"It is my burden, Finton," she says, her breath chattering free of her teeth. "Go."
He turns and does not look back. She is not coming with him. If he thinks another moment, guilt will overcome him, and he will stay, a terror and a hindrance to them both.
* * * *
Jesse can see his breath in the falling darkness.
It is the first day of the new month, and winter has come early. His mother could not persuade him inside during the storm, and his father called him a reckless fool before shutting the door. He went for a cloak and headed for the trees, never once glancing back.
The Elders say that it is only half a day's journey to the gravel road, and beyond, he imagines that the Towns are close. If Jesse waits, he may be able to greet them shortly after dawn.
His hope is a fool's hope, and he knows it. Noah has escaped.
Still, Jesse is determined that nothing will shake him from the spot. He folds his arms beneath the cloak and settles with his back against one of the posts, eyes open wide. There is so much mist that he cannot see more than four feet in front of him. The red berries sway in the wind, taunting him with death.
This was not what he had meant the night before.
Jesse is tired of heartache. In every corner of this place that he calls home, it cowers, more terrifying than any thing with teeth and claws, more threatening than a lovesick boy with a knife. He understands what they are up against. They have feared themselves all along. Jesse hopes that Lucius will survive. He is stronger than any of them, but not as strong as Ivy. It is strange to think that she will protect Finton, but he knows that this is true, and holds to it like a beacon. There is little else that he can do.
After a time, he drifts off, exhausted and cold. To die here would be a mercy, he thinks dimly, if Finton and Ivy do not return. Perhaps Noah will find him first, or perhaps –
Through the mist, someone is coming.
Jesse struggles to his feet, throwing back his hood. If this is death, then he will meet it unafraid, with eyes open and arms flung wide. Droplets of melting ice spatter his cheeks like tears, but what fills him is purest laughter. He is ready, and it is coming.
When the figure breaks into the berry thicket, it stops, panting. It is dressed in bright yellow, and its hood is thrown back to reveal long, tangled blond hair.
Jesse runs to him, unthinking, and the cold on his cheeks turns to fire.
"Finton! Finton, is that – "
"Do not cross!" Finton shouts, running again. "For the love of heaven, do not – "
Jesse catches him head-on, and they fall in a tangle of soaked wool and berry stains.
"You idiot," Finton chokes, "I told you – "
"You told me nothing," Jesse sobs, and his tears fall on Finton's scratched, dirty cheeks. "Nothing!"
"I did not want you to go," Finton whispers, reaching for his hand, struggling to sit up. "I could not – "
"Neither could Christop," Jesse cuts in. He cannot help his anger.
"Ivy will be all right," Finton says. He sounds as if he has had to convince himself of this every step of the way back.
Jesse helps him to his feet, and they stand for what feels like forever, there in the midst of danger.
"I hope that is so," he says finally. Finton's hair is plastered to his cheeks, so he smoothes it back, wiping away the streaks – here tears, there dirt, there blood.
"When she returns," Finton says, beginning to sound like himself, "we will be here, and your story will make it true."
"We must get you warm first," Jesse says, taking his hand. "But after that, if you wish…"
"We will wait," Finton says calmly.
There in the berries and blood, dazzling red, Jesse kisses him, and makes it true.
- Continue: All the World to See -