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Bitter Pills (Part 5)

Posted on Mon Jul 11th, 2022 @ 12:01pm by Addy Stone & Quinlan Barrett Poe

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Weysmith Farm, Sweethome
Timeline: Mission Day 35 at 1430

Wooden steps – fifteen of them all told. Step to the outside of the eighth and skip the twelfth if you need to be quiet coming or going. The creak can be heard through the whole house when it's quiet at night. Better choice is out the window and down the tree that borders the roof of the wrap around porch. How many nights had she sat up on that porch staring at the stars wondering if he was looking out at them too.

Hands rough with work and stained with the kind of grease that never seemed to go away dusted along the bannister. How many times had she run her hands along this exact wood rail? She stepped to the outside of the eighth and reached long to skip the twelfth as much out of habit as anything else.

Addy's room was the second on the left. The first belonged to Peter who was mere steps ahead of her. He skipped the twelfth too and paused for only a moment to turn and look at his sister when he reached his door. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came and instead they merely stared at each other a moment until she moved past and into her room.

It had only been weeks. What? Maybe six? And somehow this room felt like it belonged to another woman. Years had accumulated in this space. The ephemera of what she had valued, those things she had believed mattered–the remains of those good moments she had enjoyed. It had not been an easy life. And now she saw it with a darker cast. The joys that were allowed her. Allowed. Those she had taken for herself when she could.

With a breath released she entered her bedroom moving to the closet first and pulling out two bags, a duffel and a canvas backpack. She had no illusions about what would happen once she left and for a moment she was overwhelmed at the thought of what to save. So instead of deciding she turned and perched on the edge of her bed. With painstaking care she slid the topmost letter from the bundle that Peter had handed her. She drank in the handwriting, imagining eighteen-year-old Quinn penning this first letter in a barracks or tucked into the hold of a ship or even in a trench somewhere. Slowly she unfolded the letter telling herself that she would only read this one right now, perched on the side of her bed where it was meant to be read.

... It's only been a few days but I'm already back in the war. I'm not supposed to give away specifics, I hope you understand. So, we were hiking all day and we're still a day's walk away from where we think they're set up. Found a bit of paper on the transport and tucked it in my backpack so tonight, while Ephraim (can you believe that name?) heats up the beans he liberated from somewhere we're not supposed to talk about, I thought I'd write a few lines. Because I can still hear your voice, you know? See that blush that steals across your face and the way the sunlight turns your hair to a sort of fire. I miss you, Addy, I purely do and God willing, the war will end soon. Did I ever tell you I wanted to train horses? I'm good at it too. Can you imagine it? You and me on a ranch somewhere? And we'd have to have a porch swing just like the one you have now. Who knows? Maybe I can prove to your parents that I'm respectable enough for someone like you ...

She read it three times and on the third, as if she were sixteen again and he had only been gone a short while, she held it to her chest and fell back onto the bed with a sigh. Her heart ached. It ached for the joy this would have brought the sixteen year old version of herself; ached for the boy spinning dreams on paper about porch swings and horse ranches. She could picture it too, but when she pictured it now it wasn't the younger version of the two of them--it was Quinn as he was now. Quiet and reserved, wary, but warm and safe and steady beneath the layers of protection that had built up over the years.

He never had told her about wanting to train horses. Or, more, he had but she hadn't known until now. Her heart tucked that little bit of knowledge away like it was a treasure, a piece of him she hadn't yet seen though she had already been meant to, and then she blew out a breath, sat up, and set about packing.




It took more time than she liked to look things over. Her rifle and ammunition out from under the bed. Books. She'd more than she could reasonably take, so she sorted through looking for her favorites and those she thought Quinn might enjoy as well when he needed something new to read. A few letters that Henry had written her during the time he had been coming around went in as well. Changes of clothes were next. Two more pairs of coveralls, shirts, an extra set of boots. But also a dress she loved. Simple and feminine and so far from her normal, but something she had always felt good in when she wore it. There were some other odds and ends as well and when she finally zipped closed the duffel she returned to the letter, carefully putting it back in the envelop and back in the pile, before settling them carefully on the top of the pack.

Peter stood at Addy's door watching for a moment as she placed the letters he had handed her not an hour ago in amongst her things. He tried to remember a time in recent memory when he had seen her handle anything so reverently. With a careful knock and a clearing of his throat he let her know he was there.

Addy's head whirled at the sound, but her face softened from wariness to recognition when she saw who it was. "Packed?" she asked gently. She'd made this decision weeks, maybe even years ago, but for Peter, she knew, the choice to leave was still painfully new.

He nodded. "Best I could, yeah." His hands went into is pockets, shoulders hunching before he leaned against her door frame. "Hard to pick. Figure Daddy and Mama are like as not to burn the rest of it once we're gone unless they can find a use for it."

"Yeah," she agreed. "I had the same thought." Her eyes scanned her room, looking at those things that were left behind. "You got the key to Daddy's lock box?" she asked then. "We ought to make sure we have any papers. Certificates of birth and the like. Anything they've still got."

A frown this time, but Peter's face resolved until resignation quickly. "I don't. We should go take it off of him if Mama hasn't already hidden it away."

"In a minute," Addy said then turning to sit on the side of her bed, pushing the bags back a bit she patted the spot next to her. "Sit with me a moment?"

A push off of the doorframe with his shoulder propelled him into the room. Peter settled next to her, his added weight making the mattress dip so that their shoulders were touching.

"I'm sorry Peter," Addy said quietly, and the remorse was clear in her tone. She snagged his hand and squeezed it a moment, stopping him from protesting. "Not for this. Or for leaving. Or for loving Quinn. But for not seeing Daddy for what he really was sooner. For not protecting you and the others better. Quinn thinks we shouldn't live in the past and I try not to, but in this it's hard sometimes."

"Addy..." Peter started, voice low and consoling.

"Let me finish," she cut him off. "Have had to do some growing up these last weeks that I avoided beforehand. And I know Quinn's told you we'll do whatever we can for you and for Juliet and Gary and Lori Jo. But I'm telling you too. I'm telling you as your sister. As your family." She trailed to a halt, going quiet and settling her head softly on Peter's shoulder.

"I know, Addy," he finally said quietly finding there really were no other words. "I know."

 

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