Welcome to October
A Sea Stranger
Somehow the day turned to night and the wind became badly bitter. Nyx sat in the sand glaring at the ocean, huddled up in a grumpy lump. Her eyes stung from dryness and her jaw was set against the cold. The moon hung high above the horizon. It was glaring at Nyx, too.
It was strange, she thought. Being at war with the waters. Especially because the waters weren’t fighting her back. She had yelled at them, kicked at them, made all her mean faces at them. And they weren’t concerned in the slightest. They just lied there and slept as she raged.
And now she was tired. Worn weary and out. She was so tired she forgot she was hungry. She glared, too tired for even her face to move.
There’d been people throughout the evening who’d come and gone, who’d witnessed her tantrum, who’d laughed or who’d curled their lips in disdain. She’d ignored all of them because none of them mattered. Not their feelings, for once. Only hers, no matter how deranged.
But now she was all by herself with the ocean. It grew cold before it grew colder. It grew dark and darker still. The only thing that sat unchanging was the sea much too serene. Perhaps that’s what her mother’s song had been talking about. The hatred one feels from such an unfeeling thing.
They drove to the beach in silence, but for Constance, a song sobering rang through her head.
The only place that I belong is in the ocean blue.
But it’s a place I hate because I think it hates me, too.
The only place I’ve ever loved is somewhere on the shore.
But I’ve forgotten where it was so now I’m headin’ home.
It almost made her smile to think how much her friend loved that depressing song. But if Nyx had gone to the ocean, would she still be there at this hour? And if not, then where would she have gone?
Constance shuddered to think what state Nyx must have been in. To have run away from Home. She must have been scared and sleepy and worse, starving. Nyx was her baby. And what would Constance do if she’d lost another one?
Constance thought of Dawn Mortimer and felt an overwhelming wave of shame. I won’t lose another one, she’d promised herself after losing her own, little Leo. But then Clara...
Now, again...
Constance Down started crying and she shook so violently, she felt something burst out of her that the car could not contain. Constance wailed, fighting against her seatbelt, pounding, begging for Wei to “Pull over!”
The children in the back grew very still. Perhaps afraid.
Wei took his wife’s advice and pulled over. The car hadn’t even stopped fully before she fell out of the door and stumbled onto land. The Vales stopped behind them, but Constance ignored Vienna’s calls wondering if she was okay.
She was not okay.
She knew that now. She was sick and she was sad and perhaps she was a terrible mother.
But no, no, no. She was definitely not okay.
Mrs. Down stayed in the car. She said she’d just be a moment, but Evie could’ve sworn she saw the X. Exceedingly emotional; exceptionally pained.
Excruciatingly lost.
Mrs. Down was afraid.
But rather than running to confront those fears, she sat on the bench to avoid an ending empty. Leila led Ichabod onto the sand, like a General to her troops. Lei was always determined to be contrary, thinking it solved most of life’s problems, but tonight she claimed “hope” as her motive. Ichabod liked that. And with a shortage of soldiers, it wasn’t the time for General Lei to pick and choose.
So Evie and Mr. Mrs. Down stood between the car and the sand, waiting for Mrs. Down to have her moment. It was taking a while, so Mr. Mrs. Down cleared his throat.
“Evie,” he’d started, but the Vale woman warned her he might try that. So Evie sighed, preparing the speech she’d rehearsed if he’d asked about tonight’s confrontation.
“Yes, I’m upset with you,” she admitted. “You should have told us what happened with Mr. Graves. That he was sick and he was tired and he didn’t mean to run into them. That he died in that accident instead of someplace far away.
“Yes, I plan on telling Ichabod. And Nyx as well if you insist that you won’t. Because yes, I’d like to talk about it. But not here and now. Not... not today.
“And yes, I know you thought you were doing what was best for us. Maybe you’d truly forgotten. Or you thought it’d be easier if we didn’t know. But even if it’s easier, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know. What we live through makes us stronger, but if you lie for the sake of protecting us, don’t you know how much of ourselves you’re stealing away?”
Mr. Mrs. Down looked pensive. Perhaps he didn’t know what to say. But Mr. Mrs. Down tried with an “Evie” again.
But Evie quickly hushed him saying, “No, you don’t have to apologize.” She looked at her guardian and gave a shadow of a smile. “But thank you,” she told him. “For trying. And when I’m ready to ask questions, if you could just answer them... then that’d be more than okay.”
Mr. Mrs. Down pulled her in for a hug and she felt herself sinking sappily in.
“Let’s go get your sister,” he said.
Evie nodded. “Mom, too,” she felt Clara would have said.
The only place that I belong is in the ocean blue.
A boy raced toward Wei. He was jumping and shouting and Evie’d turned toward Constance, eyes wide and inflammed. Those eyes were demanding. Move, Lady, they ordered. MOVE. Evie ran toward the car eyes on fire, commanding Constance to just move.
The only place I’ve ever loved is somewhere on the shore.
Evie was shouting. What was that? Ma’am? C’mon?
“Mon!” the word came, warbled through the glass of the windshield. Evie flung the door open. “MOM.”
Constance couldn’t believe it. She blinked at the girl. Evie yanked Constance’s legs out of the vehicle and shook her quite hard.
“Mom,” she repeated, dark eyes lighter and soft. “They found her, Lei’s found her. Nyx needs you. Come on.”
Nyx cried in the arms of her sister repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again.
“Sorry for what?” Leila kept asking and asking, but Nyx knew that she just couldn’t understand.
Nyx was sorry for not running. For not doing something else. For being the last to hold Clara’s body. For being the youngest for some reason now.
She was sorry the sea wouldn’t scream at her. Wouldn’t wail. She was sorry she hadn’t been swallowed. Hadn’t cried until she was crying for something else.
She was sorry she sent Clara home— to a home without them.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she just kept crying. “I’m sorry... Where’s mom?”
“She’s coming!” someone shouted, but Nyx’s face was so swollen she could barely hear, let alone see. She kept wailing while a group of someones came running. Then she felt a pair of arms catch her up and pull her close.
It was Mrs. Down assuring her she was here. “I’m here...”
Nyx wailed into Mrs. Down’s neck, getting her dress all wet with tears, slobber, and snot.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she cried. “I know it’s all my fault.”
Mrs. Down hushed her. “It’s not, Honey. It’s not. It was an accident.”
“But, but—“
“It was an accident.”
“It was an accident. It was no body’s fault.”
Mrs. Down sat rocking her and Leila fell into Nyx’s lap. She had also started crying and saying she was sorry. For not knowing Nyx felt so lost.
“If I had only been paying attention,” she sobbed.
But Mrs. Down hushed her. “You’re a good older sister. Your sisters’ sadness isn’t your cross to bear. It’s not.”
“Yeah, but—“
“It’s not.”
“I could have helped her.”
“No, you could not. Nyx has to deal with her own sadness. Like you have to deal with yours. And Evie...” But Mrs. Down didn’t finish that thought.
So Evie sat down next to Mrs. Down and put her head on her shoulder.
“I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault,” the girl said.
Their guardian’s eyes filled with tears as she shook her head crying, “But—“
“It’s not your fault,” repeated Evie.
Leila sat up, putting a hand on Mrs. Down’s cheek. “Mom, it’s not your fault.”
Mrs. Down started wailing, and Nyx felt her own tears choke up.
“What happened?” Nyx asked, and the sea started to rise. Her sisters looked at each other and Dr. Down crouched beside her, rubbing his temple and setting his jaw.
Ichabod stood apart from the huddle, but Nyx thought the scene suddenly felt somehow off.
“What’s happened?” she repeated and Evie looked into her eyes to make her understand this.
“It was no body’s fault.”
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