Hybel 15, 1013
“Come on, boy! Come on!”
Marley wagged his tail, cocked his head to one side, and whined. Thorn waved his arm up and down. “Come on, boy! Let’s play!”
Marley barked and jumped, following the progress of the arm. He crouched, haunches in the air, tail wagging enough to power a few windmills. His happy bark echoed off the trees.
“Good boy! Good Marley!”
Thorn kept razzling Marley, and Marley kept barking and jumping around, only too happy to play along. Good. This was all Thorn wanted to do today, and he thought he was allowed. It was St. Agnes’s Day. It was the day that, after they went to church, all Sims were supposed to use to be happy. That was what Brother Galahad had said in services this morning, and if Brother Galahad said it, well, then it had to be right, hadn’t it?
Thorn hoped it was. He liked going to services in Avilion, with Granny Kata and Billy. Well, as much as anyone liked going to services. Brother Galahad didn’t say nasty things about Thorn’s mama, and he really didn’t say nasty things about anybody. It wasn’t the same with Brother Tuck. Thorn hoped that they could keep going to services in Avilion after Dilla got a little bigger so Auntie Lyndsay could take them instead of Granny Kata. He’d have to get Bran and Ginny both to help him work on Auntie Lyndsay.
In the meantime, he’d keep playing with Marley, because Marley was probably the only one who wanted to play with him.
Well, maybe he could play with Betony and Ginny, if he really wanted to. Ginny never said no when Thorn wanted to play with her, and Betony was little, so she had to do what Ginny said. But Ginny seemed to like playing with Betony more than she liked playing with Thorn nowadays. They played girl things — things like dolls and house and make-believe that involved princesses having to get rescued by dragons. Or was it from dragons? Thorn could never quite keep that straight.
Bran could laugh it off and call it silly girl things. Thorn … couldn’t, quite. Ginny was his best friend, his constant companion and playmate before he got Marley and before Betony got bigger. He couldn’t help it; he felt sad, somewhere, in his heart when Ginny wanted to do things and she didn’t want to do them with him. At least Marley never seemed to want to play with anybody else as much as he wanted to play with Thorn.
And while what Ginny and Betony were playing now — a simple fight with their pillows — was something Thorn could have joined without feeling a fool, to do that he’d need a pillow. And all the pillows were inside. And going inside meant going past …
Auntie Lyndsay and Auntie Roma and Granny Kata. And the babies, too: little Jemmie and Cicely and even wee Dilla in her cradle. But it wasn’t the babies that worried Thorn. It was the women. Auntie Lyndsay almost never yelled on St. Agnes’s Day, and she usually let the kids do whatever they want — eat dessert before dinner, or get mud on their clothes, or even slide down the banisters (at least until someone fell off and started to cry). But even on St. Agnes’s Day, there were limits. Auntie Lyndsay might not scold, but she would still say “No” if she knew that Thorn wanted to take her nice clean pillows out to the garden to play with. And Thorn didn’t have skirts like Ginny and Betony, skirts big enough to hide things like pillows in as long as nobody was looking too closely.
So he was stuck. Stuck with Marley — which was better than being stuck by himself, for sure. Better by a lot. But still … it did get lonely.
Then again, there were always the men.
Thorn could go and fish with them … if he really wanted. Uncle Ash had found him before they started fishing and asked Thorn if he wanted to come and play special. But Thorn had said no. It wasn’t that he didn’t like fishing with Bran and Uncle Ash and Billy, too. It was because of Auntie Roma’s husband. Thorn was supposed to call him Uncle Simon, but Thorn tried to avoid calling him anything when he could.
It wasn’t that Uncle Simon had ever been mean to Thorn … he was usually nice enough to all the kids, when he could be bothered to pay attention to them. He wasn’t shy about handing out sweets or whispering ideas into the kids’ ears. Bran liked Uncle Simon for that. But Thorn … didn’t. Couldn’t. There was something … just something …
He just didn’t like Uncle Simon. And Billy didn’t seem to like Uncle Simon much, either. So Thorn had that much to go on. He’d stick to that.
Marley whined low in his throat, and without warning, stopped chasing Thorn’s arms, sat back, and started to scratch behind one ear. “Ye gettin’ bored, Marley-boy?” Thorn asked. He patted Marley’s head. “That’s all right. Want ter play fetch?”
Marley’s ears perked up at the word “fetch.”
Thorn grabbed a stick and hoisted it above his head. “Here ye go, boy! Go fetch!”
Thorn threw the stick, and Marley was off like an arrow after it.
He bounded across the grass, picked up the stick, and brought it back to Thorn. He even dropped it at Thorn’s feet! Some dogs didn’t do this, Thorn had heard. Some dogs you had to fight to get them to let go the stick. But Marley was a good dog.
He was getting to be an even better dog, too. Auntie Lyndsay had told Thorn all about the gypsies she grew up with, and how they trained dogs and birds and even bears to do tricks to make the people laugh and throw silver coins into the hat. Thorn wanted to train Marley to be just as good as any of those dogs — better, even! So he said, as sternly as he could, “Sit.”
“Good boy! Go get it!”
Thorn threw the stick. Marley bounded after it. He ran back, tail wagging, stick proffered. Thorn bent to take it, and then, when he looked up —
He saw his mama.
Thorn dropped the stick. Marley picked it back up again and held it out, whining. But Thorn didn’t even hear.
Why’d she have to bring Daisy? Why couldn’t she have just left Daisy at home, or with the other aunties? They all liked Daisy. Here — here —
“Thorn!” His mama called out, waving one hand. “Hallo, Thorn!”
She saw him. That meant — so did Daisy. Daisy was already looking around, her leafy hair bobbing in the breeze. When she saw Thorn, she laughed and pointed.
“Aye, Daisy, that’s yer big brother!” His mama waved again. “Come on, sweetie! Come an’ say hello!”
Thorn supposed he didn’t have much choice. He trudged over, Marley trotting at his heels, nice and close. Thorn didn’t even have to reach down to be able to pet him.
At least Mama put Daisy down before she bent to kiss Thorn. “An’ how’s me best boy?” she asked.
Thorn wished she wouldn’t say that. If Thorn was her best anything, why did she need to go and have Daisy? Why couldn’t Thorn just be her best?
But he answered anyway. “Good, Mama. How are ye?”
“Never better!” Mama laughed, as she always laughed these days. She’d been so happy after having Daisy. Sometimes Thorn felt like an awful little boy for not being happy for her, if he couldn’t be happy about anything else. Sometimes he didn’t care.
“Oh, go say hello ter Daisy,” Mama added, waving Thorn toward the baby. “Ye know how much she likes ye!”
Before Thorn could protest that she didn’t, couldn’t — he knew about babies, since Uncle Ash and Auntie Lyndsay had them all the time — Daisy lifted her arms up to him and giggled, “Forn!”
“Listen ter that! She’s tryin’ ter say Thorn!” laughed Mama.
Thorn knew that. Betony, Cicely — someday Dilla, too — they all called him Forn before they could call him Thorn. But he bent and kissed the baby anyway. “Hallo, Daisy.”
Daisy reached her chubby hands out and touched Thorn’s cheecks before he could pull away. “Forn!”
“Aye, it’s me. Thorn.”
“Yes,” laughed Mama. “He’s a very big Thorn. Gettin’ bigger every day, ain’t ye, lad?”
“Aye, Mama,” Thorn sighed.
“Play, Forn?” asked Daisy. Her little eyes filled up with something that wasn’t quite tears, but looked like it. Good Lord — Betony and Cicely didn’t start learning how to throw tantrums until they were much older than Daisy. Why did Daisy have to do everything early?
Thorn thumped onto his bottom, not caring if the dirt got his breeches dirty. “Aye. All right.” He covered his face with his hands, falling back on the safest way to keep the little ones happy. “Peekaboo!”
Marley suddenly yipped and trotted away. Daisy watched him go, mouthing, “Oooh …” Thorn almost squirmed to see what was the matter, but Uncle Ash’s voice forestalled him.
“Ash!” Thorn’s mama turned around and embraced Uncle Ash.
“Too busy ter say hello ter yer brother, eh?” Uncle Ash laughed, as Thorn rarely heard him laugh with anybody else. Not even Auntie Lyndsay got laughs like that. “Even though ye walked right by him?”
“Oh, shush, ye!” chuckled Mama. “I saw me boy. An’ Daisy wanted ter say hello ter her big brother. Ye can’t blame Daisy fer lovin’ her brother, can ye?”
“I can if it means that she don’t want ter give the time o’ day ter her poor uncle.” Uncle Ash bent down to tousle Daisy’s leaves; Daisy looked up with a wide grin. But Uncle Ash wasn’t looking at Daisy. He was looking at Thorn.
Whatever he saw when he looked at Thorn made him look up at Thorn’s mama in a hurry and ask a grown-up question, guaranteed to get any kid to stop listening: “How’s business?”
Thorn kept playing with Daisy.
His mama always said that she liked him. Well, she certainly didn’t seem to not like him. She always smiled when Thorn was around, and she always seemed so happy when Thorn’s mama made him play with her. Thorn wasn’t sure why. Was it because there were no other kids to play with her? Or maybe she was just … odd that way? Cicely always tagged along after Bran, whether he wanted her around or no. Maybe Daisy was like that, only with him.
Thorn wished she wouldn’t. It would have been easier to … to not like her, if she didn’t like him. He didn’t want to like her. She took his mama away from him. Thorn’s mama wasn’t like Auntie Lyndsay, who could keep being a mama to Bran and Ginny and Betony and Cicely and now Dilla no matter how many other babies came. Thorn’s mama seemed to have room in her heart for only one kid at a time.
And if Thorn needed proof, it was this: she’d sent Thorn away. She kept Daisy.
That was the kind of thought that would make any little boy not want to play with his little sister. So, even though Daisy seemed ready to go on with peekaboo all day, Thorn got up, and as soon as there was a lull in Uncle Ash and his mama’s conversation, asked, “Mama? Can I go play with Marley now?”
“Forn?” asked Daisy, pulling on Thorn’s breech leg.
“Aw, ye don’t want ter play with yer little sis? Why not?” Thorn winced — Mama looked so sad, so disappointed! “Look how much she wants ter play with ye!”
Uncle Ash was looking oddly at Thorn; then he spoke. “Marigold, he’s a seven-year-old boy. They don’t go in much fer playin’ with the babes, as a rule. Besides …” Uncle Ash swooped down and lifted up Daisy, tickling her tummy. “Let’s give Daisy some time with her favorite uncle, eh?”
“But … but he an’ Daisy barely ever get ter see each other,” Mama said, looking so sad that Thorn almost wanted to say he’d play with Daisy for a little while longer.
“Same goes fer me,” Ash pointed out. “Ain’t that right, little budling?” Daisy giggled.
“I — I jest want ter play with Marley,” Thorn pleaded. “It’s Saint Agnes’s Day. We’re supposed ter have fun terday. That’s all!”
“Ye don’t have fun with yer little sister?”
“Mari–” Uncle Ash started. Something made him stop. Something made him look at Thorn long and hard. And that something made him look long and hard at Thorn’s mama, too.
He sighed. “Marigold. Take Thorn up ter his room, an’ talk ter him.”
“I didn’t do nothin’ wrong!” Thorn protested.
“No, o’ course ye didn’t, lad. That’s not why I’m telling yer Mama ter take ye upstairs. It’s jest … past time the two o’ ye had a talk, that’s all.”
“About what?” asked Thorn’s mama, hands spread helplessly.
“Jest … talk ter him. Ye’ll find yer way. The both o’ ye will. An’ meanwhile …” Uncle Ash smiled at Daisy. “I’ll take care o’ this little lady.”
Thorn’s Mama turned to him with a small smile. “Well, then, lad. Shall we?”
Thorn, seeing no other choice, nodded. His mama extended her hand to him. He took it. It felt good to hold his mama’s hand again, even if it was only for a few minutes.
He and his mama went up the winding stairs Uncle Ash had carved into the tree. His mama had to stop to say hello to all the other ladies, but that didn’t take long. And so they were soon in Thorn’s bedroom. Thorn’s mama sat down on the bed. “Sit with me, Thorn?”
Thorn shook his head.
His mama knit her brows together as she watched him. “What’s the matter, Thorn?”
He didn’t know how to begin to answer that.
“What? Ye can tell Mama. Ye can always tell Mama.” Mama reached her hand for Thorn. Thorn didn’t move to take it. “Sweetie?”
Thorn winced. “Why …” He stopped. This was a question that he couldn’t ask. Grown-ups didn’t like questions like that.
Or … well, even if they didn’t like the question … maybe Thorn could still ask it? The worst Mama would do was swat him and make him spend the rest of the day in his room. It wouldn’t be his first pick of ways to spend St. Agnes’s Day, but the day was pretty much ruined anyhow. And if he knew Marley, Marley would come soon and scratch at the door, and Thorn could let him in and still have some fun.
So he asked. “How come ye like Daisy more than me?”
Mama gasped. “What?”
Thorn winced. Here it comes …
But all that he was fearing — a smack, a yell, a demand that he stay in this room and not come out, not even for supper — didn’t come. Instead there was another small gasp and something that sounded close to a cry. “Thorn, how can ye say that?”
“Ye kept her,” Thorn mumbled.
“Well, aye, but–”
“Ye got rid o’ me.”
“What? No, no, I didn’t!”
“Ye didn’t want me ter live with ye–”
“No, Thorn, it’s not that I didn’t want ye!”
“Then why didn’t ye let me live with ye?”
Mama started making fish-faces — that gasping, mouth-opening-and-closing thing that caught fishes did after they were taken out of the water. She gulped. She passed a hand over her forehead. “Thorn … I didn’t keep ye because I didn’t think I could take care o’ ye good. As good as yer Auntie Lyndsay an’ yer Uncle Ash could. An’ there’s Brother Tuck … ye remember what happened ter yer Auntie Erin’s little boy, don’t ye?”
“But he’s younger than me,” Thorn pointed out. “He’s only six!”
Mama almost smiled. “Such a smart lad,” she murmured. “So very wise.”
Thorn could only shrug.
“But … let me explain … oh, we were afraid o’ what happened ter Wulf happenin’ ter one o’ our kids. Or at least, I was. An’ me an’ the other girls … we thought we couldn’t take care o’ no babies. Babies are a lot o’ work, ye know! Ain’t they?”
To that, at least, Thorn could nod along.
“Yer Auntie Erin was the only one brave enough ter try … an’ we all know how that ended up. I wanted — I wanted what was best fer ye, Thorn, so I gave ye ter yer auntie an’ uncle. ‘Cause they were good with babies, ye see. They already had two!”
“An’ … Daisy?”
Mama smiled. “Daisy’s like me. She only needs some sun, an’ some water, an’ lots o’ huggin’ an’ kissin’. An’ she’s fine with that. Ye’re a little boy, Thorn, ye need a lot more.”
“Still? I ain’t a baby no more.”
“No … but ye still need sleep … an’ it’s right loud at the–the house at night. Ye wouldn’t sleep a wink! An’ ye need good food, like yer auntie cooks, not like whatever I can slap tergether. An’ ye need yer cousins, ter be yer friends. An’ ye need ter have lots o’ time ter have fun — time I couldn’t give ye, because if I let ye roam outside and play, the way ye need ter, I’d always be afraid somebody would take ye from me.”
“Like … she took me?” Thorn asked.
“Ye-es …” Mama answered. “An’ like Brother Tuck took Wulf from Auntie Erin.”
“Auntie Erin got Wulf back.”
“She did. She were lucky. I–wouldn’t be as lucky. An’ if Brother Tuck took ye … ye wouldn’t see yer cousins no more. No more Bran, no more Ginny, no more Betony or Cicely or Dilla. Ye wouldn’t like that, would ye?”
“No …” Thorn scuffed the floor with one boot. “But …”
“If — if it’s not ’cause ye liked Daisy more than me — how come ye went an’ had her?”
Mama blinked. “I — I don’t know. Havin’ a baby like Daisy — it’s not somethin’ ye can want. It’s somethin’ that jest — happens. Like yer Uncle Ash an’ Auntie Lyndsay. It jest happens fer them, don’t it?”
“I guess …”
“An’ let me tell ye this, Thorn, an’ I promise it ter ye. I don’t like Daisy more than ye. An’ I don’t like ye more than Daisy. I love ye both with all the heart I’ve got. ‘Cause …”
She got up suddenly and hugged Thorn. “‘Cause I’m yer mama,” she whispered into his ear. “Both o’ yer mama. An’ if there’s one thing that mamas don’t do, it’s likin’ one kid more than another. We ain’t made fer that, Thorn. We’re made ter love all our kids equal-like — because that’s one thing ye all need, an’ that’s one thing we all can give.”