I never quite trusted autumn. It had this annoying habit of never quite fulfilling the promises it made.
Which would have been fine, actually, if they didn’t often come so close. I would nearly win the race. I would nearly get there on time. I would nearly be seen by my favorite drummer. But just… close enough was still so far away. Having the almost hurt more than anything.
Therefore, when my interview lined up for the end of autumn, rather than in the beginning of winter when I had thought they would get back to me, I felt like giving up.
“Don’t do that,” my wife scolded.
She should have known better. She had been slammed by autumn as much as I had. Though part of me wondered if it was just me, or if she simply hadn’t been observant of it before meeting up with me.
Nevertheless, she used the lint roller on my jacket to get rid of all the cat hair and sent me on my way. Here it was, the perfect interview that would appear to go well.
Part of me wanted to sabotage it so it couldn’t even be close. I smiled.
I could wait long enough, for winter to bring me its luck.
Maybe Summer was tired, or maybe it was his help that meant Winter didn’t spend another hour looking for her. Summer giggled when he opened up the closet. All Winter could think was that she couldn’t have been here the entire time, because that was the way to bore Summer.
“You found me!” she exclaimed, as though this had been a deliberate game.
“I found you all right,” Winter groused, yanking her sister out of the closet. It didn’t put a damper on Summer’s mood, but Winter had a cure for that. “I’m going to tell Khauhelo how much trouble you were.”
Summer’s mouth shaped into an O, long before she said anything. “No!”
“Yes. I told you not to go far!”
“But I didn’t!”
Winter nearly said more, only to remember it wasn’t just the two of them. She looked over at the Baroness’ son apologetically.
He shrugged it off. “Don’t mind me. Take your family in hand, Winter.”
It wasn’t as if she needed permission or anything, but for some reason the acceptance of her seniority over Summer, the only family she had left, was cathartic. “To Khauhelo it is!”
Summer’s protests aside, they returned to the orphanage.
If there was one way to describe Summer, it was determined. Determined to annoy her, Winter decided, rubbing her eyes.
“Hey, Winter. What’s up?”
She turned toward the Baroness’ son. She envied his long hair, always bound back. It was just like his mother’s and it was beautiful. No wonder neither of them cut it. “Summer.”
Winter didn’t have to say anymore. He nodded. “Summer. Where have you looked already? Want any help?”
If there was one way to describe him, it could only be determined. His hand toward her, which she took, previous irritation gone. Oh, Summer would still have it when she found her. Her and her flaxen hair, smooth as silk.
His hair flared out with all of the curls and waves, darker than his dark skin. It contrasted so strongly with her hand in his, so light as though she was snow.
They went to find Summer.
“What are you looking at?”
He considered ignoring Winter, but he didn’t. Golden didn’t turn his gaze from the ceiling though. “The roof is leaking.”
Winter didn’t say anything, but he could tell her begin to search as well for what he was talking about. When she did not see anything, only then did she speak. “What makes you say that?”
“Drop of water on my head.”
Almost the moment he had finished saying that, the next drop of water came down. It splashed a few footsteps in front of them. “Housefather is going to have a fit.”
“Yep. Place was always old though. Repurposed to be an orphanage.”
Winter nodded, shoulders drooping. “I’ll go tell him.”
He considered telling her to tell the Baroness instead, but that would make it sound like he expected her to be able to fix the problem. And he didn’t, he really didn’t.
Or did he?
Slowly but surely, Golden brought down his walls.
The housefather was a kind enough man, but with the Baroness always showing up, it was easy to forget about him. Khauhelo was the kind of man who could disappear into the background. At least, most of the time.
“Ah ah ah! When did this break?”
He fretted about the chair as though it could not be fixed or replaced. Winter felt bad for him when he got like that, but she didn’t know what to do about a chair either. “I think it has always been a little wobbly, housefather.”
Khauhelo clicked his tongue in his mouth. “Next thing that will happen is the roof will leak. Oh dear, dear, dear.”
There was no distracting him when this happened. At least, not unless something worse happened. Winter liked to prevent that. Khauhelo was a nice enough man. Only strict at the last moment. Maybe he should have been more so, especially as the children here recovered from their journeys and became a bit more rambunctious. Summer was one of those problems.
She left him with the chair for a bit longer, before returning to let him know the stars had come out. Enough of a reminder that they were all going to go to bed. That was, if they could find all of the problem children. Like Summer. Winter tried not to fret herself.
“Never you worry, Winter. She doesn’t go far. Why don’t we check for your sister just outside? Maybe she is playing with Vasuda?”
Nodding, Winter would follow Khauhelo outside.
“Look what I’ve found!”
The Baron’s son held up some sort of insect. Dahlia wasn’t bothered by it, though it didn’t interest her too much. Winter looked disturbed, though all she did was frown. Summer gasped, gripping at her sister’s skirts. The gasp was high pitched though. That was more likely to make Dahlia wince.
Golden looked outwardly disturbed. “That’s gross. Put that down.”
“I’m not hurting it.”
“But I will if you don’t get it away from me.”
“I think it would be happier on the ground,” Winter added, pushing some of her hair out of her eyes.
The Baron’s son frowned, but then walked off with it to put it somewhere else. Dahlia got up and followed after, to watch as he put it back on a plant. “Why do you like bugs so much?” Dahlia asked.
“I like a lot of things. But showing people fish is harder to do.”
“This is the fishing capital of… well, everywhere.”
That was true. “Could you show me fish?”
She wasn’t sure what made her ask, but he smiled and Dahlia decided she didn’t really mind having asked.
“Why don’t you talk?” Summer asked, blunt as ever. Winter scowled, swatting after her. But Summer had already run off to look at Dahlia.
Dahlia stared back blankly. “I talk.”
Summer gasped, like it was some big shock. Maybe it was to her, Winter barely understood it. She was certain Dahlia was closer in age to Summer than to her, but Dahlia didn’t act like Summer at all.
“Summer, stop bothering her.” Winter got to her feet, slowly walking over to Summer to be able to grab her hand. If she ran, then Summer would run. Chasing her wasn’t where she wanted to spend her energy today. She looked over at Dahlia. “The Baroness says there are apple trees behind the castle. They pick them occasionally. She wants to know if we want to try to get some before other people do. Apparently they’re ripe now.”
Dahlia shuffled in place, then looked up at her. “Apples?”
Winter held out her hand. “Apples. They’ll taste really good, I think. First ones of the season. What do you say?”
Dahlia didn’t take her hand, but when Winter took Summer to go, she noted that Dahlia followed after.
The day he got sick was the day neither the Baroness or her son came down to the orphanage. Winter, with Summer in hand, went up to the castle.
Castlehaven might have been called Castlehaven and the place the Baroness lived might have been the castle, but she was fairly certain, though the place was massive and made of stone, that this was not a castle. Nevertheless, she waited at the front.
“Do you need something, child?”
Winter was certain this man’s name was Tumelo. The Baroness’ son had talked about him. “Um… I was just wondering…” It was hard to say.
“Is he going to play with us?” Summer asked.
Tumelo didn’t smile, but Winter had a kind feeling from the man. “The young master is not feeling well today. Would you like me to pass on a message?”
Summer pouted, but Winter managed to keep her quiet with a few pats on the head. “Get well soon. We miss you.”
Fortunately, not for long.
What Golden should have done was say no.
“Here we are!” the heir to the barony exclaimed, throwing the doors open. Or trying to. He didn’t have enough strength to make it impressive, but the large door still creaked open enough for the five of them to get in.
Winter kept her sister under the most amount of control that seemed possible. Why was Golden here? He would leave as soon as the others entered the room. Winter bit her lower lip. Summer followed suit. “This is…?”
“Where we have our lessons.” The Baroness’ son moved in. “Or do other things. If I wait for him here, he usually shows up before long.”
He gestured for them to come in. Or, mostly, Dahlia to come in. Dahlia skittered forward, eyes big (as normal). Winter and Summer followed.
He could leave now. But there was something about being called Golden and knowing that no one knew to call him otherwise that made him think he could stay a little bit longer.
And so Golden did.
“Your mother’s the Baroness?” Winter tried to sound unaffected by the knowledge. She didn’t know why. She simply felt as though she should keep her concern to herself. Because if she let it out, Summer could be upset.
The boy looked at her with confusion. “Yes?” He nodded a few times. “Yes, she is.”
For some reason, he didn’t strike her as the Baroness’ heir. He was obviously her son- that wasn’t what she questioned. But while that woman had the air of control and power, much like her position entailed, her son simply seemed like another child. Like he could have been any of them.
“Why do you both come here?”
He laughed a little, looking at her with even more confusion. Confusion, yet happy.
“Because you are all here. Why else?”
It came as easy to him as breathing. Winter couldn’t help but believe him.