Welcome to October
CHAPTER
11
A Kindness Killer
Nyx and Evie were told to entertain Ichabod Graves, but this was proving to be a task most tiring.
“I’m bored,” said Ichabod for the perhaps the fourth time. He scrunched up his nose and hardly touched his second cup of tea.
Evie, who’d been staring at him with a look that could either be read as “curious” or “annoyed,” said in her usual tone tempered, “Really? Us too.”
Nyx cleared her throat. She wasn’t good with conflict or conversation. But if she didn’t talk, didn’t try, didn’t do something, they were all bound to remain in silence strict and utterly senseless.
“So Ichabod,” she said, trying. “What do people call you?”
Ichabod frowned. “‘Boy,’ mostly,” he said.
Evie snorted into her mug in a way that could be read either as “amused” or “nastily.”
Nyx tried again. “What should we call you?” she rephrased.
Ichabod seemed surprised and opened his mouth once or twice. But he didn’t have any suggestions.
“Lei calls you Icky,” offered Evie.
Finally, he found his voice. “So did Mom.”
“Does,” Evie corrected. “Doesn’t she still?”
But Ichabod continued to stare sadly at his shoes.
A familiar feeling rose into Nyx’s stomach. It rose from her stomach and into her heart. She knew what Ichabod was feeling because she’d felt something similar once, when she was younger. When she realized that she preferred being called Nyxie by her mother. When she learned that her mother would never call her Nyxie again.
Nyx knew they couldn’t call Ichabod Icky. She knew names were weighty. Some names, weightier, still.
So she made up a new one.
“What about Bod?”
Evie ruffled and Ichabod cracked a smile smarmy. He smoothed the front of his shirt.
“Yes, Bod will do nicely,” Ichabod agreed, sitting straighter.
“And you’ll fit in a lot better ‘round here now,” Nyx concurred.
“What makes you think that?” Evie asked, still perturbed.
Nyx grinned. “We have lots of bods downstairs in the morgue.”
Leila feared Mrs. D for many reasons, but none of those was because she was scary. Mrs. D, on her worst days, could be louder and seem bigger than even a yet-to-be-caffeinated Captain Greer. But on every day, she loved the Mortimers. Leila loved her for that and feared her for something entirely else.
Leila respected Mrs. D a lot. And she hated to disappoint her, or even to let her down.
There wasn’t rage in her heart. Only sadness. Only pain. And though she realized Mrs. D couldn’t know the depths of that pain and sadness, she thought Mrs. D loved her. And she knew Mrs. D knew.
Mrs. D knew the truth behind the accident.
She knew what that boy’s father had done to the Mortimers’ parents.
In some part of her conscious conflicted, Leila knew Ichabod wasn’t exactly to blame. But when she looked at him, she swore she could only see his father’s ghost. And how could Mrs. D invite any more specters into their Home?
If ever Leila disagreed with Mrs. D, the two of them, usually, would come to terms with each other after a talk. But today, Leila felt too many things. She felt winded and blinded and terribly thrown. Worst of all, she felt betrayed by her guardian. By the person she respected the most. There was nothing to be agreed on when Mrs. D had already decided. There were no words to express how deeply Mrs. D’s decision had wounded the place in Leila’s heart where her love and respect for Mrs. D had been stored.
So today, when Mrs. D sat her down and began to talk, Leila glared at her with every ounce of pain and sadness welling in her eyes. And she feared she would never fear Mrs. D ever again.
Mrs. D looked pained, too. “What’s really wrong?” she asked.
The truth was it frustrated her that Mrs. D was being nice to the kid, even after Mr. Graves had run into her parents. But Leila knew she couldn’t say because she couldn’t have known— shouldn’t know. She clenched her fists in her skirt and she lied, “Nothing.”
But it was more painful to say, “Nothing,” than it was to say nothing at all.
Mrs. D grew more concerned. Her hand shot out, and when she grabbed hold of Leila’s, it felt as though the place where their skin met had been on fire. Leila turned her head away using all of her strength not to yank her hand away, or let Mrs. D see her cry.
“Are you really upset at the idea of people in Clara’s room?”
Leila let out a ragged breath. It was relief. And confirmation.
Mrs. D could never understand the depths of her feelings.
That meant Leila could still pretend.
“I’m sure there’s something else, here, Leila,” Mrs. D added carefully. “You’re never upset without cause.”
Mrs. D paused for a moment.
But Leila was quiet and waited.
Mrs. D sighed.
“I could offer them the attic, Lei, but there’s something I need you to understand. Your mom taught me this one long ago, and now, I’m going to teach it to you: Whenever you can help someone, you help them. Without question or payment; regret or fear.”
Leila finally felt herself settling down again.
“You don’t gain anything by ignoring someone in need,” Mrs. D explained. “But you never know what you’ll gain from doing something genuine and good.”
Leila thought about this for a moment. But Ichabod flashed across her mind. He only reminded her of things that were bad. When she thought of him, she felt nothing good.
But then Mrs. D said something terrible. And the pain rose again and fell out of Leila’s eyes.
“He reminds me of her,” was what she said. Then she quivered quietly, “Of Clara.”
Then Mrs. D and Leila both were crying. Leila did not know what to do.
Mrs. D, however, was crying and smiling. “Don’t you think that the two of them might have gotten along?”
Leila couldn’t explain why she laughed a really ugly laugh through her tears. She couldn’t understand why her heart ached and why it throbbed. But the twosome were laughing and crying and Leila couldn’t help thinking that Clara might have liked Ichabod. It was possible. Could Leila, too?
Finally, Leila sucked up enough air to use her words.
“I don’t want them in Clara’s room,” she asserted. “But I could learn to live with it if they used the attic or Evie’s room.”
“Your room’s bigger,” Mrs. D joked. It wasn’t funny. But she pulled Leila into a hug and the Mortimer felt her face melt into a strained smile. “I love you, Leila. You’re my strong, sweet, wonderful, little girl.”
Leila did not know what to say to this. She didn’t feel strong, or little, wonderful or sweet. She felt too many things. And the culmination of today (and feeling much too many things at once) only made her feel a little knotted and numb.
But luckily, Mrs. D wasn’t finished. Leila did not have to endure a struggle most stressful over whether or not to say she loved Mrs. D back.
Mrs. D was saying, “Please— please look after Ichabod. For me. For... for Clara.”
The sound that came out of Leila Mortimer wasn’t a yes or a no. She moved back and forth with Mrs. D in a one-sided embrace. And she felt that sound sink between them.
It was only an mmm.
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