Written for an OC contest, meaning that the characters are not mine. They belong exclusively to w0nd3r_k. I'm not going to say that this was one of my favorites, but it "pays the bills" so to speak, and it made her happy. Hope you enjoy!
Bree can't see the ocean from here.
Sitting on the sun-burnished roof, all she can see to the west is a field, golden with autumn, interspersed with trees. The sky is a delicate, light blue, dotted with clouds and the occasional dark body of a bird, zipping along the horizon as though it could fly from one end of the island to the other. It would soar above houses, she imagines, and dense folds of trees. It could map thin freshwater streams running through to the ocean, little veins of life pulsing through this definite little world. Maybe there is something else, she thinks, that she hasn't seen yet. Maybe a hidden grove, or some sort of ivy-hidden cliff cave. A traveling show, working magic in town. Maybe there is something beyond fields and fields and trees and sky.
When she looks to the east, she can see the ocean, a sparkling surface in the distance where Rafael and Leo embark on their fishing trips every day. But from here, this endless expanse of blue is just as flat as the ground.
She edges her way to the end of the roof, turning around to lower her bare feet to the stack of barrels at the corner of Rafael's house. Her hoodie nearly catches on a rough shingle, but by now she is experienced enough at climbing to his roof that she unhooks herself without difficulty. She jumps down to the ground and smiles guiltily at Leo, who's coming around the corner with a stack of firewood.
"Did you fight with Brynn?" he asks good-naturedly, stopping to adjust the weight of the wood under his arm.
"What? No, I was just thinking." She tugs at the sleeve of her hoodie.
"Well that's good. I just asked because that's usually why you're out here. Her or Raf."
"Is it?" she says distractedly, watching a sparrow alight with quick, pattering flutters on the roof where she had just sat.
Leo raises an eyebrow and after a pause asks, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, just a little out of it today," she says, and gives him a smile.
"Could you stop that?"
Tap tap tap.
"I said could you stop." Brynn gives her a look from where she is chopping vegetables. The kitchen counter is littered with utensils and ingredients, all of which will be neatly cleared away by the end of the dinner preparations. Brynn makes up for whatever burden she causes in any way she can; cooking is one of them. Her belly just barely presses against the cabinet below as she returns to the rhythm of her knife.
"Sorry." Bree puts down the mixing spoon she had been tapping against the table. "Do you want me to put wood in the stove?"
Brynn stops again, turns around. "Well, yes, seeing as I asked you to do that ten minutes ago."
Bree winces. "I didn't hear you."
"I guess not."
She stands up to get the wood and then thinks better of it. She doesn't like it when Brynn, or anyone else, talks that way to her; like she's some stupid child. They're the same age, for God's sake, it shouldn't make any difference whether she heard or not. She considers going right back out to the roof until she realizes that Brynn's knife is still silent, her calm gaze locked on her.
Brynn doesn't wear much makeup, only light, simple colors and bases to give her a glow that Bree is fairly certain that she would have anyway. Her sister had once told her that she used to wear more, before everything had happened. This "before" Brynn was someone Bree didn't know and wouldn't ever. She had the suspicion that "before" Brynn had been a very different person, in ways Bree couldn't understand. But "now" Brynn is looking at her with calm gray eyes, and there is a cutting there that Bree doesn't like.
"You're bored here."
"Of course not."
"Don't try to lie, you're rubbish at it. You're bored."
"How could I be bored?" Bree scowls, putting her hands on her hips. "Leo is so good to you, and Raf – well, Raf is…"
"An angel, I know." Brynn purses her lips. "I wonder the same thing, then. That you could be bored here after…everything they've done."
Outrage colors Bree's cheeks. "You think I'm ungrateful!"
"Not on purpose," Brynn says calmly. "But sometimes, when you're not careful-"
"I can't believe you! Just because I don't think we're…teetering on the edge of being kicked out or something, or that I have to flirt just to stay" – Brynn's eyes flash dangerously – "doesn't mean that I'm ungrateful! You're just…" She has run out of words, and Brynn is not contributing anything. This is the difference between the ways they argue: when Bree is riled up, she throws sentences like machine gun fire, rapidly and without a clear aim. Brynn is more like a sniper.
Bree goes back to the roof.
At sunset Rafael clambers up next to her.
She gives him a small glance, then quickly turns away. No matter what she thinks of this man, she has begun to think of the roof as her own little corner of the universe, and this feels like an invasion.
"You missed dinner," he says conversationally, handing her a bowl of rich, fragrant stew that makes her stomach growl. The fight aside, Brynn is a good cook when she sets her mind to it. Bree takes the bowl and raises a spoonful to her lips, blowing gently and wondering whether Raf is going to leave any time soon.
Instead, he leans back and looks at the burning colors at the horizon, stretching across the same empty field Bree had watched earlier that day. "What do you think of going into town tomorrow?"
Immediately realizing what's going on, Bree drops her spoon in the bowl and shakes her head. "No. Did Brynn talk to you? Listen, I'm not-"
"Bree," he says, and she stops talking. There is something in his voice that always gives her pause. It is a mixture of warmth and strength that she can't pinpoint, a confident, easy sound that promises that things are in control.
They sit in silence for a few minutes, Bree sipping up the stew. It's harder to watch birds whizz by when there is someone more interesting sitting next to her, but she does her best.
"We need to go soon anyway," he says. "I need to stock up on medicine and I think…well, don't tell her this, but I think Leo wants to buy Brynn some chocolate." She looks at him, startled, wondering at his lack of reaction. Because of course Raf is interested in Brynn, so wouldn't it worry him that his best friend was buying her chocolate? But Rafael seems completely oblivious to her concern, and fearing it might be a sensitive subject she lets it go.
"Okay," she says after another pause. "Tomorrow. And…Raf?"
She pauses and looks at his face, the deepness and softness of his eyes, the paradoxical gentleness in the strength of his jaw line. She swallows her intended words.
"…Tell Leo that Brynn likes things with strawberries. Now get off my roof."
The town is bustling at midday, merchants hawking their wares in the streets just as more established shops sedately line the main road behind them. The noise, in Bree's opinion, could rival that of a large city today; people bartering, children screaming and chasing one another between busy adults, the clop of horses and the creak of their carts. She quickly learns that it is a good day for trading; a new shipment has come in from some of the furthest islands, maybe even a continent beyond, bringing fruits and goods that are not native to Ruby Lake. This has drawn in farmers and fishermen and country dwellers of all kinds, causing the street to explode with bustle and color and human life.
Bree is enchanted. She examines dangling amber necklaces as the merchant gives her a simpering smile. Small flecks of darker gold hang inside, or sometimes a bug frozen who knows how many years upon years ago. She hears a confused yelp and hurries to pick up her fox; the handsome little creature would get lost underfoot. She tucks him into her satchel, his head poking out curiously, and laughs at the black snuffling nose. Leo pushes her playfully from behind to tell her to get a move on and she continues to wade through the crowd, eyes continually caught by bright scarves, intricate tapestries, the jangling of golden coins against a bare stomach –
"Tell your fortune?" the woman says in a thick accent that Bree cannot place. She stops her odd, roiling dance and the coins lie still. Bree has never seen anything like her before – eyes and skin dark and exotic, her age difficult to determine. Her body is youthful and spry, but something in her face suggests age, or wisdom, or both.
"Come on," Brynn grabs her arm, casting the woman a suspicious glance.
"No, wait." Bree pulls her arm away. "How much?"
"Free, for free-spirit like is yours," the woman says with a smile. She is missing a tooth.
"Bree," Brynn says warningly. Her hand is resting under her belly; Bree knows that walking is becoming tiresome for her and the horses had been uncomfortable and she really just wants to find a place to sit down.
"Go ahead," she says.
"You can't just-"
"It's fine," an easy voice cuts in. "I'll stay with her." Rafael gives Brynn a reassuring smile, and she struggles to return it.
"I suppose that's alright. Just be careful." Her eyes flicker briefly back to the gypsy. Raf nods and turns to face the woman. "How do we…?"
"I have shop," the woman says, turning abruptly to face a ramshackle tent set up between two smaller stores. The two follow her, Bree strangely excited. This feels like mystery, the way the woman casts such a perfectly intriguing smile over her shoulder, the way her shining dress nearly trails along the ground. This is something exotic. Exciting.
They step into the shop and Bree is immediately hit with a barrage of ceremonial scents. The air is hot and heavy, candlelight glinting in the dark against shining, odd instruments: golden scales, polished cards, a swinging silver pendulum ball. The woman sits on an overstuffed cushion and invites the two of them to do the same. Bree glances at Raf, whose face betrays nothing of what he's thinking. Does he want his fortune told as well, or is he just here to keep her safe? Being Raf, ever courteous, he is the first to speak.
"Did you have a safe journey?"
For a second Bree wonders how he knows the gypsy isn't from the island. Then she realizes that if she herself has never seen anything like this woman before, she, who lived elsewhere for most of her life, then Raf certainly hasn't.
"Yes," the woman smiles, and Bree thinks she sees a flash of gold in the back of her mouth. "I come in with the merchant ship. Is high time to see more the world. Yes?"
Bree, without realizing it, smiles back.
This seems to please the woman, who quickly grabs her hand, running a calloused finger along the palm. Bree resists the urge to pull back. When the silence has become unbearable, the gypsy staring at her palm seriously with brows furrowed, she tries to make conversation.
"Why did you come here? If you wanted to see the world, that is. There isn't…it's an island, and it's not that big, so…"
Without looking up, the woman answers, "Everything in world is world. You understand?"
"I see fear in your past," she says matter-of-factly, and Bree feels a chill run down her spine. "Drifting. But now there is anchor."
Bree very, very carefully does not look at Raf, who is sitting far too quietly for her liking.
"And your future…" she squints, making a big show of the thing, "Future is unclear. Trials. Storms. But you sail straight, yes? Is good."
Personally, Bree thinks that anyone could make such a prediction and make it seem mystical, but she doesn't say anything. The strong aromas are making her feel sleepy.
"And…" the woman says, and her eyes are liquid in the candlelight as they flicker over Bree's face, her thin smile growing mischievous, "You have your adventure very, very soon."
Bree pulls her hand back on instinct, unable to break gaze with the gypsy. "I-"
"That is all," she says, suddenly matter-of-fact. She stands and begins pointlessly rearranging things on a table. They are obviously dismissed.
"Yes, have a good day." She doesn't even turn to face them. Bree is a bit miffed, but Raf puts a hand on her shoulder and thanks the woman graciously, steering her out of the tent.
By the time they have gotten four shops away, Bree realizes her wallet is missing out of her purse.
She wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for her fox, who had been curled up and sleeping, despite being carried in a cramped purse and surrounded by lights and noise and interesting smells. Finding it odd, she had picked him up and he stirred sluggishly, yawning and blinking at her curiously. And now there is no wallet sitting beneath him.
Suddenly the numbing, stupefying affects of the gypsy tent's aroma are gone. She stops suddenly, nearly being run over by the crowds.
"What is it?" Raf asks, grabbing her arm.
"My wallet! It's gone! I got so sleepy in there, and my fox-"
Raf is already running back in the direction they had come. Before she can think she's running after him.
The tent is empty, except for odd trinkets and knick-knacks that, when the tent flap isn't lowered to block all sunlight, look much cheaper and less mystical than they had before. The woman is nowhere to be found. Raf insists on checking beneath cushions and tables for the wallet, but Bree is more impatient.
"She can't have gotten far!" She leaves the tent, scanning the crowd for a bright, long dress, listening for the clinking of coins.
To her surprise, she sees what looks like the tail of the gypsy's clothes whip around the corner.
Pushing through the crowds with any kind of speed is difficult. She receives angry shouts as she shoulders through knots of people or barely maneuvers around men unloading crates. She is kept to speed by the rare flash of bright silk or exotic skin; the long black hair shines like oil. The figure seems to move aimlessly, weaving between the crowds with expertise but going nowhere in particular. Convinced that the gypsy is trying to lose her, Bree pushes harder. She hears a voice calling her name, but she ignores it; the woman always skirts the edge of her vision, and if she slows down even the slightest bit –
She turns a corner into an alleyway and finds the woman talking to a small boy. With a glance and a sly smile, the gypsy begins to sprint, and the boy runs the opposite way, pushing straight past Bree and towards the main road.
"Wait - " she shouts, and someone grabs her arm. Raf is breathing heavily, but he looks focused, calm. "Where did she go?"
She points, and Raf sprints off again. Bree almost follows him, but the wide-eyed boy catches her attention.
Seemingly scared by Raf's appearance, he hops onto a trash bin and somehow, through a combination of scrabbling for chinks in the alley wall and an odd, practiced scurrying motion, pulls himself onto the roof.
Bree is beginning to feel the effects of her chase. It's tempting to just let Raf try to hunt down the gypsy woman, Raf with his body lean and fit from working all day in the sun. But why, she wonders, would the boy be running?
On a spur-of-the-moment decision that Brynn would likely chide her for, Bree clambers onto the trash bin, looks at the wall, and takes a deep breath.
The boy sits cross-legged on the edge of the roof. Bree finishes pulling herself up with no little amount of effort, swinging her leg over the slightly raised edge and hooking it around to push the rest of her body up. She struggles to stand as quickly as possible, ready for the boy to make a break for it, but he doesn't. He stares at her from large green eyes stuck in a dirty, too-thin face and slowly cracks a smile.
"Do you know that woman?" Bree asks, cautiously stepping forward. The boy shakes his head. No.
"Do…you know why we want to catch her?"
"Do you…do you know where my wallet is?"
Wordlessly, the boy holds it out to her. It's a light shade of blue, a bit worn and old, but something she has kept with her for a long time. The boy's smile spreads to cover his whole grimy face. "The weird lady asked me ta give this to you."
Bree blinks, confused. "Then…why did you run?"
He shrugs. "She told me ta do that, too."
Bree steps forward and takes the wallet, opening it up. So far it seems that not much, if anything, is missing, though she hasn't counted the bills. She looks up at the boy, hoping for answers, but instead only finds a scrawny young thing wearing worn clothes three sizes too big for his body. He smiles at her cheekily, as though enjoying the joke.
"I don't understand."
"Don't ask me, lady. She was really weird."
In a brief lull of the louder shouts of the hawkers, Bree thinks she hears Raf calling her name. Raf, the generous, the one who took her and her sister in without a second thought. Who puts up with her mood swings and her sensitivity and took them all to town so Leo could buy chocolate and so Bree –
So that Bree would have a shot at adventure. A flash of smoking gypsy eyes overtakes her and she thinks that he may not have been the only one with that goal. It's an odd way for a traveler to spend her time, giving adventures to a stifled young woman that may or may not have something to prove, but perhaps there are stranger things in this world.
So Bree does what Raf would have done, the saint, and hands the child a wad of bills. He smiles and thanks her and begins his impossible trek down the wall, and she smiles hesitantly back.
Rafael is standing where he left her. She can see even from up here that he's breathing hard and the set of his shoulders suggests disappointment. So he didn't find the woman. Oddly enough, Bree hadn't expected him to.
"Raf!" she calls, standing at the edge, looking down at him with a cheeky smile in imitation of the child.
He blinks up at her in confusion, then an exhausted laugh breaks through. "What are you doin' up there?"
"Long story. Catch me."
She jumps, and it feels like flying for a moment before she drags herself back to earth and into Raf's outstretched arms.
They leave Brynn and Leo eating strawberry shortcake in a café. This had been Raf's idea; after they had finished buying all of the essentials Leo had been hesitant to leave, and Brynn had seemed very willing to stay with him, though she covered by complaining about wanting to put off the journey home for as long as possible.
The sun is sinking slowly, just barely bringing touches of burning color to the very edge of the horizon, and Bree's fox is squirming in her bag again. She's affixed it to the saddle. Lucky he likes her enough to put up with her riding a horse; she doesn't know how he would keep up with them on the ride to town and back otherwise. He's a patient creature, but she can't exactly blame him for jumping ship when the chase had started. They had found him sticking close to Leo's ankles when they had finished, a bit jumpier than usual, the poor thing.
"Is he alright?" Raf asks, as if reading her mind. His horse, a handsome appaloosa, walks close to Bree's. They ride comfortably, faster than they would have with Brynn in tow, but not above a trot.
"Yeah," she says, patting the fox's head. "He might need a bit of a reward for putting up with me, though. Whaddaya think: you wanna give him the rest of those pork chops you've got back home?" She smiles at him expectantly, and he gives her an exaggerated skeptical look.
"Oh no. Those have a special destiny, and it's not fox food."
She reaches over and punches his arm without a second thought. Easy, light. "There can be no nobler purpose."
"I can think of one. I'm hungry."
Bree laughs, even though it really isn't especially funny. Everything feels nicer and lovelier today. She feels more content somehow, though a few hours ago she wouldn't have thought herself lacking anything. "Hey, I'll race you home from here."
She turns to look at him.
Rafael is a handsome man. Bree has known this from the start. Now, with the not-quite-sunset angling light through his dark hair, catching in his eyes, her pulse loses its train of thought for a moment and her breath does something funny to her insides. And the way he is looking at her, so open and honest and with the tiniest quirk to his lips, makes it difficult for her to regain coherency, to laugh and goad him on. "What, you chicken or something?"
He doesn't respond, and she shifts almost nervously in the saddle. "Fine, if you don't decide I'm just gonna take off, and it'll be your fault that I have a head…start..." There are only inches between them now. They are breathing the same air.
"What you did today was great. For the boy."
She struggles for the words to answer him. "You would have done the same thing."
"That's why it's a compliment," he says, eyes roaming across her face like he's drinking it in, and it takes her a second to find the joke.
"Oh, sure. Don't go getting a big head now. That's why I like you, you're so incredibly…humble. I mean, that's why everyone-"
"Bree." His voice, as always, brings her words to a halt. Confident, as though her name is the only thing that will ever need to be said. And there is something in that that she relishes so completely, that maybe her own name is important in some way, when it's in Raf's voice and carrying his power, bringing peace and maybe something else with it.
It doesn't take any effort to lean in and touch their lips together. It isn't much; just a quick kiss that lingers a bit too long to be a peck. Anything else would be difficult on a horse.
There is silence between them; the comfort that Raf creates carries over for a few minutes, away from worries and house politics and wild gypsy thieves.
Bree smiles and spurs her horse into a gallop. Maybe the island isn't so limiting after all. Everything in the world is the world, after all.
Raf just lost himself a head start.