Chapter four

I was dragged outta sleep round about noon by a nervous Paka askin’ what time we were expected at my house and whether we’d meet a lot of people along the way. I dragged myself outta bed a second time and told her it was near a two and a half hour walk and I hadn’t given any time when we’d be there but we could leave in an hour and get there about mid-afternoon, and that I’d take them through the warehouses round the edge a’ the Caves and we’d see hardly anybody at all. And not to worry. She didn’t listen to that last part.

I got dressed and fed, and the four a’ us left, Aid friskin’ with excitement, Pak lookin’ nervous and Tor lookin’ a little short-tempered and sarcastic, which was the ginger were’s way a’ lookin’ nervous. Didn’t bother me much. My parent’s’d be just as nervous, and I figured a good sharp dose a’ tension would make everyone pay more attention to what was going on. Besides, as I said, my parents are damnably perceptive. They’d probably recognize the nerves in Tor as easily as I did and it would help put them at ease. After all, it was a very human response.

As luck would have it, we only met one or two people on our way through, and they knew me so they didn’t stare at my companions—or at least, they waited till I couldn’t see them starin’. We passed Mrs. Theran’s house, and she nodded companionably to me from her porch and didn’t even look surprised to see a blue-skinned girl and a kid with ears and a tail walkin’ with me, and I thought, that’s one more on my side. If my parents got short about the kind a’ company I keep by the river I could send them round to Mrs. Theran’s.

I wondered what she’d say if I asked her if she was a seer.

It was close to three o’clock when we got to my house. I could see my parents through the front window, sittin’ together on the couch, pourin’ over an old photo album. They’d taken to doing that a lot, ever since I got home after bein’ gone for a month. I never asked, but I knew what it was about—they missed me. I’d become someone else. I took Pak and Tor and Aid round the back and in through the kitchen. My parents and I had a sorta code—people who came in the front door were people we had to see but didn’t want to, people who came in the back door were people we wanted to see. When I was a kid it was how I’d made it clear to my parents who I wanted to be friends with and who I’d gotten stuck with by accident. I’d considered bringin’ the three in the front door, as a statement to my parents so they’d know how much I didn’t like havin’ to bring bits a’ the GypCirc home, but I didn’t know how they’d take it. They’d know what I meant, a’ course, but it mighta hurt them and we were still on pretty rocky ground.

Soon’s they heard us at the back door they put the photo album away and came into the kitchen, and I started in on the introductions to cover the tense moment when my parents looked from Paka to Aid and tried to come to terms with the fact that one a’ them had ears and the other was blue. They heard the names and responded in an ordinary way, and didn’t even stare very much—I was the only one who noticed their reaction.

“Yeh’re earlier than we expected you to be,” Dad said when the introductions were done. “Yeh must be tired and hungry if yeh walked all the way up from the river.”

“Surely yeh didn’t walk all the way,” Mom said.

“Weren’t likely we’d be let on a bus,” I replied, and immediately regretted it. Dad looked awkward, but Mom, with the quick instinct a’ someone who dealt with other people’s spoiled kids and the short-sighted quick-tempered parents all day said:

“A’ course, stupid a’ me. Yes, yeh must be tired and hungry. We’ll have a late supper and I’ll make you somethin’ to eat now.”

“Let me help you,” Pak said.

“Yeh’ll do nothin’ a’ the kind,” Mom replied kindly. “Not till yeh’ve had a rest. Go, sit, Charles will help me. We’ll see about you helpin’ me later, when there’s real food to be made.”

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