The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone

Ververe 18, 1013

“But, Jack …” Billy was murmuring.

Jack did his best to avoid a sigh. It wasn’t Billy’s fault, he knew, that Billy was so … straight-laced. His mother was a battleaxe, worse than Sorcha on her strictest days. And he didn’t have a father to take the edge off of his mother, like Jack did. Even worse, Billy didn’t have a Cap’n to teach him all those things that parents strove to keep away from the tender ears of their youngsters. It was no wonder that he was still so diffident, so unsure of himself. Especially at the Tricross.

Sometimes, Jack wished he could just drag Billy to Bledavik and show him a real fun time. Here in Albion, boys like Billy were forever worried about stepping on the toes of boys like Jack and yet-higher boys. Oh, a boy like Billy did his best not to show it, and if ever another boy challenged him, he met challenge for challenge and usually won the fistfight that followed. If the other boy had a shred of decency (or pride) in him, then things usually ended there. If he didn’t … and he often didn’t, since most boys with a shred of decency or pride didn’t go after Billy just because they could … well, then Billy paid for his victory.

It wasn’t fair. And it wasn’t like that in Bledavik. What was the point of lording it over other boys because your father had more gold than theirs did? A chance storm could change that. A bit of luck on the other boy’s father could change that. A tangle with the wrong hurricane or other boat, pirate or otherwise, and you might not have a father anymore. You didn’t insult Fortune in Bledavik, because everyone in Bledavik knew that she was a bitch and bit back.

However, if Jack couldn’t drag Billy to Bledavik, then at least he could bring a bit of Bledavik’s free spirit to Billy. So he leaned closer. “Aww, come on, Billy! What’ve we got to lose, huh?”

Billy looked forlornly off at the two girls playing Mah-Jong. “But Gretel’s pa has such a big farm …”

“What’s that got to do with the price of tea in Smina? Your ma is the only midwife in the kingdom!”

“Ain’t the same,” Billy muttered.

“Sure it is. Any fool can keep a bunch of plants from dying in a warm place like this.” At least, Jack hoped that was the case. He’d certainly never had much to do with raising grain and vegetables and all that whatnot. There wasn’t much of a growing season in Bledavik, anyway, and trying to coax life out of the rocky soil was a hard enough living that most of the men and women of Bledavik found less backbreaking ways to earn their living. Like piracy. “But it takes real skill to deliver a baby.”

“Ma says that she don’t do most o’ the work,” Billy muttered. “She says that the mas do it, an’ she jest –”

“Billy!” Jack interrupted. “Doesn’t she bring home good silver coin?”

“Aye …”

“Then what does the rest matter?”

It was a straight-up appeal to greed, other people’s greed, to be specific — but in Jack’s experience, it tended to work as well on southlanders as it did on his fellow Bledavites. Billy blinked at it, but after a moment, his complexion began to clear. “I … suppose …”

And,” Jack added, whispering in his friend’s ear, “I think Mistress Gretel’s been lookin’ in your direction …”

Billy’s eyes lit up. “Truly?”

Jack only grinned. He had, in truth, seen Gretel look in this direction once or twice. What she was looking at … well, that could be anything. But Billy would never get anywhere with women if he didn’t take a chance every now and then. Faint heart never won fair lady, as the Cap’n always said … usually mockingly.

Well, Jack was in this too deep to back down now. “Come on. Let me do the talking — at first. Then you can go win Gretel’s heart.”

Billy looked at the Mah-Jong table, watched the girls playing at it, and gulped. Twice. But in the end he nodded at Jack. “Aye,” he answered. Then, deepening his voice, “Let’s do this.”

“Amen, brother!” With that Jack strutted off, peacock-like, to the table where the girls were playing. He barely waited for Billy to catch up before pulling out the chair next to Gretel’s friend. “Are these seats taken, ladies?”

The friend looked at him with wide, stolid eyes, her dark brows shading them better than a pair of parasols. “N-no …” she began, then looked at her friend.

“No, sir,” replied Gretel, simpering.

“Wonderful! Come on, Billy, have a seat!”

Billy came and sat, taking the seat next to Gretel. Gretel watched him come with wide eyes. Was that a good sign? A bad sign? Billy knew this girl from his school, but Jack would be damned if he knew much more than that. Did she reciprocate his interest already?

Gretel barely spared a second glance on Billy after he sat, though, preferring to watch Jack. “So … we know who Billy is,” she began, tossing one of her red braids over her shoulder. Billy watched the lamplight flicker over it. “But who are you, sir?”

“Nobody important, and certainly no sir,” Jack laughed. “I’m just Jack.”

“Jack who?” asked the black-haired girl, resting her hand on her chin and watching him.

“Jack Andavri,” replied Billy, saving Jack the trouble. “L-ladies,” he added. “I’ll — uh — that is ter say …”

Gretel raised an eyebrow at Billy, one that Jack chose to interpret as encouraging.

“That is — I know everyone here, so — well, ladies, this is Jack Andavri, an’ Jack, this is Mollie Butcher,” the dark-haired girl nodded, “an’ this — this is –” Billy’s voice cracked on the last syllable, making Mollie titter. Billy flushed but went on doggedly. “This is Gretel Bamfield.”

“Me da owns the biggest farm in Avilion, savin’ Sir Lancelot’s lands, o’ course,” Gretel purred.

“An’ me da is a butcher!” added Mollie, apparently not to be outdone.

“That’s nice,” Jack said absently. “Here, ladies, let me shuffle those for you,” he added, taking the tiles and sorting through them.

“That’s nice?” repeated Gretel, the purr turning into a hint of a growl.

Jack looked up with his best “innocent” face — practiced but never quite perfected under Sorcha’s hyper-sensitive gaze — and smiled. “Aye, of course it’s nice. Nice for you, nice for your pa. But I’m never much interested in what girls’ pas do — and neither is Billy, are you, Billy?”

Billy didn’t answer, too busy was he gaping at Jack. Jack knew then that he had to answer for the both of them — again. “We’re more interested in what kind of people the girls are themselves,” he went on. “Like you, Mollie. What’s your favorite thing to do?”

Gretel jumped, taken aback. Jack could see Billy from the corner of his eye staring longingly at Gretel’s pretty face.

But he focused most of his attention on Mollie, because that was what a good friend did. She stared back at him, eyes wide and lips slightly parted as she breathed, loudly, in and out. Her wide, placid face reminded him of nothing so much as a cow — and not in a good way, the way that the ancient Mysimeans used to compare their goddesses’ eyes to those of cows.

He was never sure how that worked, actually — someday, he would need to ask Cherry. She would certainly know.

In the meantime, he had a Mollie to distract.

“… Mollie?” he asked again, when the girl’s breathing without a response had gone on just a bit too long.

“What–oh!” She laughed. “Well, I like to sew. Embroider, really. Pretty things — not just hems for aprons and patches on–” She stopped. “Not that we need to patch our clothes much — except for me little brothers. They wear their elbows right through just putting on their shirts in the mornin’, I swear!

“An’ … an’ …” Mollie ducked her head, blushing, and muttered to the table, “We cuts down most o’ our clothes before we have ter patch ’em. Ye know. We’re not one o’ those families.”

“Uh-huh,” Jack replied, wondering just why she thought he — or anyone else, really — would care whether she had patches in her dresses or not. He glanced at Billy, wondering if he …

And then he saw all the patches on Billy’s clothes, and for a moment, Jack’s eyes filmed over with red.

Just who did this girl think she was, making fun of Billy because his ma couldn’t afford the newest clothes for him? For the Lord’s sake, she was raising Billy all on her own! She was doing the best she could, and even doing well by plenty of measures. Jack had seen their farm, and more importantly, he’d sat in their house — warm and snug — and eaten at their table. Nobody went hungry in that house. Nobody was cold. Nobody had to battle the elements. They had enough coin for some of their wants, too. What more did these girls want out of Billy?

“Like anyone cares about the patches, Mollie,” Gretel replied dismissively, waving her hand. Jack grinned at Billy. And Billy? Billy was beaming and drinking in Gretel with his eyes. “So, Jack, tell us about yerself. Where are ye from? Ye don’t sound from around these parts.”

“I’m from Bledavik.”

“The pirate port?” Mollie squealed.

Jack turned to her — even if she was an annoying little gadfly, he’d keep her busy if that meant leaving Gretel open for Billy. “Well, that’s what they say. But you know what else they say about pirates?”

“Ooh?”

“They never tell their secrets — and whether Bledavik really is a pirate port is one of them — to pretty girls, unless they’re goin’ to make them walk the plank five minutes later.” He winked.

Mollie gasped — and then she giggled. “Oh me! I thought ye were serious, there, fer a minute!”

“Who says I’m not?” Jack replied, voice low and menacing, with a smile that could be taken for joking or evil.

Mollie’s eyes widened, unsure which way to jump — until Gretel jumped for her. “I do,” she answered. “Say ye’re not serious, I mean.”

Jack’s mouth opened, ready to rely with a playful bit of banter — and then he saw Billy’s face. Damn it, what did he have to do to get Gretel to focus on Billy? Other than maybe kick Billy a few times to get him to talk —

Hey, that’s a good idea! Jack aimed a square kick for Billy’s shin. He yelped and jumped, the tiles bouncing with his movement.

“What was that?” asked Gretel, glaring at Billy.

“Uh … cramp?” He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to smile, tried to look pleasing.

This would not do. Billy would get nowhere with Gretel if he didn’t speak up, grab her attention, be a man. And Jack didn’t know how to teach him to do that.

… Well, maybe there was one way … the Cap’n always did say the best way to teach a man to swim was to toss him in with the sharks and hope he didn’t drown. He said that went double for the sharkiest sharks of them all: women. Jack decided to try that bit of advice, and to that end, pushed his chair back.

“Where are ye goin’?” gasped Mollie.

“Just for a little walk.” Jack grinned at her, his best copy of the Cap’n’s women-pleasing grin. “Care to join me?”

“Ooh!” Mollie squealed and leaped from her chair, content to follow Jack as friskily and loyally as any puppy.

Leaving Gretel alone with Billy. Perfect.

“So, Mollie, you haven’t told me much about yourself,” Jack said, smiling at her.

“Oh, but I’d rather hear about ye! Ye’re likely ter be so much more … interestin’,” she sighed, fluffing her hair first on one side, and then on the other. “Bein’ from so far away an’ all! Ye must have seen lots o’ interestin’ things an’ met lots o’ interestin’ people!”

Well, the only honest answer to that was no to the former question — when one grew up on Bledavik, most of what one saw were snow, rock, and other Bledavites — and yes to the latter (see: other Bledavites). Jack crossed his arms over his chest and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Well, what would you want to know?” he asked.

“Oh, anythin’!” Mollie simpered. “Have ye ever met a pirate?”

“Aye, a couple,” Jack answered, deliberately understating the facts.

“Oooh! What were they like? Where they as …” She leaned closer, batting her eyelashes, “Romantic as all the stories say?”

Jack winced. He knew he had to be keeping Mollie occupied, but damn, she was making it hard! “Well … it depends on what you mean by romantic. None of ’em that I knew were much for givin’ flowers and candies to their sweethearts … but I knew some that were tall, and dark, and swarthy, and had gold teeth …”

Mollie gasped, and Jack knew he had her. So he glanced out of the corner of his eye, wondering what Billy and Gretel were getting up to.

Not much, yet — or so it seemed. At least they had gotten up. And Billy, stumble and stammer though he might, was trying to talk to her. That had to be a good sign, didn’t it? Of course it did.

“… And there was one I knew who used to make all of the pretty girls he met walk the plank, first thing, except for one … with dark hair and wide dark eyes …”

“Ooooooh!” Mollie leaned closer, hands pressed to her breasts, eyes so wide that Jack wondered if she was trying to hear with them as well as with her ears.

Good Lord, this was just too easy. It was like trying to sell a gilded whatnot to a foolish customer, assuring him that thought it was only a quarter the price of real gold, nobody but him would be able to tell. You just had to know which buttons to push. Apparently Jack had found Mollie’s.

He could only hope that Billy would find Gretel’s just as quickly.

She was backing away from him, hands stretched out before her, head ducked to the side. Jack wished he could see her face. Was she just being shy? She didn’t seem shy, and Lord knew that Billy wasn’t the type to be interested in shy girls. But then again, these southlander girls were the oddest girls on the face of the earth. When you were safe in a crowd, those girls would bat their eyes and swish their skirts and flirt with you to no end, but get them alone, and it was all averted gazes and blushes and false modesty. Bledavik girls were so much more straightforward.

“And then what happened?” Mollie asked, leaning closer to Jack.

“Eh?”

“With the girl?” Mollie batted her eyelashes. “The one who made the pirate king stop?”

Pirate king? Jack wondered. He’d never said anything about a pirate king. Pirates didn’t have kings. They could barely manage to organize themselves under a captain. Getting captains to bow to the will of another would be like getting the King of Glasonland to bow to the Emperor of Reme, or vice-versa. It just wasn’t going to happen.

But if Mollie wanted to make the man a pirate king, he’d make the man a pirate king. He was already making everything else up. “Well, he took one look into the girl’s eyes, and he was–he was reminded of his lost love, the woman whose memory made him make all the other girls walk the plank. Because after she was taken from him, he swore–”

“Taken! Oh? Did she die?” Mollie gasped.

“Nah, she just ran off with another captain –”

“What? She ran off? What kind o’ girl is this?” Mollie protested.

“I–what?”

“A woman like that could never –”

“Billy Thatcher, fer the love o’ Wright, leave me alone!”

Jack froze. So did Mollie. So did, he was pretty sure, everybody else in the Tricross. And then, at once, pulled by some magnetism none could resist, all eyes turned to Gretel and Billy.

“Like I’d be wastin’ me time with the likes o’ ye!” Gretel huffed. “With yer sister the whore an’ yer brother the barkie! Like I’ll be lettin’ ye get yer sticky sap all over me!”

If only the Cap’n was here — he would have thought of some line about sap, and stickiness, and things of Billy’s that Gretel would someday wish she’d have all over her. Something that would shut Gretel up for good and for all. The trouble was that the Cap’n would never say it to Gretel, since he’d see Gretel as a little girl … but if he was here, he could tell Jack, and Jack could say it to Gretel.

Or Billy could — because what Billy was saying now was not likely to help him. At all. “But I ain’t–”

“Oh, like that matters! Barkie brother!” Gretel spat. “I know yer da was one o’ em, too! Ye’ll probably turn inter –”

“Don’t ye say nothin’ about me pa!” Billy roared back, taking a step forward.

Gretel just laughed. “Why, ’cause he’s dead? Like that changes anythin’! Once a barkie, always a barkie! An’ ye — get out o’ me sight, barkie boy, before I tell me da an’ brothers ye’ve been sniffin’ ’round me!”

Gretel stomped off. And Billy stood, shaking, shaken. His jaw was clenched, eyes closed.

Jack left Mollie in the dust, not bothering to listen to her incoherent protests.

“Hey,” he started, “so maybe that didn’t –”

“Shut. Up.” Billy snarled.

Jack’s mouth opened. It closed. He said the first thing that came to mind. “Sorry … sorry, mate.”

“Shut up.”

Jack swallowed. Billy stood before him, arms crossed over his chest, head bowed. Temple throbbing. Shoulders shaking. Lord, how was he holding himself together?

Jack took a third plunge. “You know what the Cap’n says is the best cure for a broken heart?”

“Me heart ain’t broken.”

“No, Billy, denial is the second best cure for a broken heart,” Jack replied. Billy looked up, jaw falling — and was that a bit of a laugh starting?

If it was, it died before it could finish. So Jack jumped on his chance before the laugh could be replaced by something darker, grimmer. “Frosty walruses, mate! And lots of ’em!”

Even at the time, Jack knew it wouldn’t be much. Hell, it would barely be adequate. But he knew something else, too.

At the moment — at least until Jack could help Billy find a new girl, one who didn’t have a stick lodged halfway up her rear — it would have to do.

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13 thoughts on “The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone

  1. Awww, poor Billy. 😦 Well, he’s just as well off without a girl like that. It’s kinda funny, Jack and Cherry both influencing their friends to drink frost walruses when they can’t think of anything better to do with em.

    And there’s Ravenna and George sucking face too, ironically.

    Points to Jackie for trying for Billy. I’m sure someone will find Billy quite wonderful, because he is, and look past the patches on his clothes and all the other inconsequential facts that weigh him down. And maybe we can get Billy and the Cap’n in a scene? Some one to play mentor to him, at least.

    Still, that little twit is a jerk. 😛 It’s a plantsim not a barkie for fluff’s sake.

    • Well, Jack and Cherry are brother & sister, so it’s only to be expected that they would be alike in some ways. 😉 Besides, when you have enough frosty walruses in you, you’re no longer worried about your bent/dented/bruised/broken heart … you’re either beyond any possibility of worried, or more worried about getting home in one piece!

      Yeah, Billy is only 13 or so — he has plenty of time to find someone who will appreciate him, patches and all. I have plenty of confidence in him, and in the young ladies of Albion, too. 🙂 As for the Cap’n … well, let me just say that Billy wasn’t the fatherless kids I was planning to have him mentor this round.

      Yes, yes, she is. It’s a good thing she’s only a townie … with Explosive hair …

      Man, townies with that hair color do not fare well in my story.

      Thanks, Andavri!

  2. Wow! Where did Jack learn to wingman like that? O_O Do they offer classes in Bledavik or something??

    You know who he should make friends with? Delyth! She seems like a girl who could totally use a wingman right now. (Maybe he can even set her up with Billy for a STAR-CROSSED ROMANCE for the ages!)

    • He’s probably done it for the Cap’n! :mrgreen: Although I imagine wingmaning is different when you’re six than when you’re fourteen …

      Oh, Delyth and Billy … that could be interesting. Veddy veddy interesting. I will have to think upon it.

      Thanks, alveus! 🙂

  3. Well, I hope Billy will look back on this one day and realize it was a good thing he found out what a jerk Gretel was before he let the crush get too serious. Meanwhile, Jack is a good friend (and a very willing wingman XD). They’re still so young, too. No sense trying to get into serious romances just yet.

    I love Billy’s views on the class issues in Albion. It must be quite the adjustment for the older Andavris still. Glasonlander culture does emphasize that an individual’s worth is defined by others, an unfortunate chunk of bullshit that Bledavik managed to dodge (admittedly not necessarily by the most fortunate means, but still).

    I kind of wish that someone (including possibly Billy himself) had stood up for poor Billy, but at the same time I don’t blame anyone for not doing so, per say. Jack was kind of processing the whole thing, Billy was obviously blind-sided, and George and Ravenna were… er, otherwise occupied. You’d think one of the Tricross employees would have tried to break it up, though. With any luck, it won’t be too long in the grand scheme of things before “barkie” is the sort of socially unacceptable slur that can get you kicked out of a place for saying it.

    • Well, this is one place where my characters would agree with you, Van; I don’t think Billy and Jack are in the mood for a serious romance yet, either. They’re still just fantasizing about rounding various bases, to use the modern idiom. But yeah, it was a good thing, perhaps, that Billy realized what a jerk she was before he let the fantasies go too far.

      Hmm, well, I can’t imagine that Bart, Sorcha, and the Cap’n would not know about how Bledavik is a bit of an outlier where class views are concerned. And they’re all pirates — even if they might not like how the southlanders view things, they know enough to know how to survive. I imagine it might be hardest for Cherry and Jack to adapt to Albion, since they spent their formative years in Bledavik.

      Yeah — I think Jack might have stood up for Billy if he had had more time to process, as you pointed out. As for George and Ravenna, I think the inn would have had to catch fire to get their attention … and even then, Ravenna the light witch would just put the fire out so they could go back to what they were doing. 😉 As for the Tricross employees, I think it happened a little too fast for them to be able to interfere one way or the other.

      Thanks, Van!

  4. *headdesks all the live-long day*

    Dear Albionese Townies,

    The Plantsim you are so focused on denigrating is the Royal Gamekeeper, stepson of the Only Midwife In Albion. Please temper your bigotry with a shred of self-preservation and/or forethought and stop openly badgering people less than six degrees of separation from the Crown.

    Thank you for your time,
    ~Hat

    • *puts a pillow between Hat’s head and the desk* I’d hate to see you concussed. 🙂

      … At least the townies are now leaving Ravenna alone? Of course, that’s because they’ll face the Wrath of George immediately and with no mercy if they so much as think about considering to try. Maybe Ravenna should get George to turn that pesky guard into a toad. Then the Thatchers would probably be left alone.

      Also, WELCOME BACK!!

      Thanks Hat!

  5. Aha, finally that time has come when his mother was right after all 😉

    It’s sad Gretel turned Billy down after all of Jack’s work, but I think Billy may need a girl with a few more nice points.

    • Yes, it has. 😈 Although I don’t Billy has made a complete fool of himself over a girl … yet. But he certainly has tossed some sense to the wind.

      Billy does need a girl who’s not going to reject him for stupid reasons — hopefully he’ll be able to find her without too much trouble.

      Thanks, Eva!

  6. Oh Gretel! There is a gingerbread house in the woods for you!

    Gretal thinks Billy isn’t good enough for her, but I think it’s the other way around. Jack seems to think so too. I think she likes him. I hope if she ever goes simpering to him again Jacks will think up something good to say to her.

    I love Ravenna and George making out in the background.

    • But Chicklet! That Gretel won! Even in OUAT, after all the happy endings were ripped away!

      Gretel was definitely trying for Jack. And Jack isn’t going to entertain that for a second. I doubt he’d give the time of day to a girl who embarrassed and rejected his best friend like that. So Billy doesn’t have to worry about that.

      Tee hee, I figured we needed an update on the Ravenna-George front, but nothing much interesting was happening there. So, we have a bit of photographic shorthand.

      Thanks, Chicklet!

  7. This could become like Where’s Waldo. Where is the Albion couple making out?

    I forgot to mention last time that I love your new banner. I got wrapped up in the chapter and forgot about it by the time I finished.

    That Gretal did win, it’s true…but it had to be a traumatic experience. I guess the major difference is that Gretal was a good little girl. This one is a prejudice stuck up teen.

    I feel so defensive of the plantsims!

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