Rain showered down upon the grass in the meadows and splashed against the windows of the small white cottage. Afternoon tea was a solitary event. Gavin set his forget-me-not printed teacup back to its saucer and savored the malty taste in his mouth. The grandfather clocked ticked against the silence. He stared out the window at a small ewe grazing serenely and released his breath. Not a sound had been heard behind the door of the room the twins shared that entire day, and as the minutes ticked by, Gavin wondered if they would ever emerge.
His dark blue raincoat dripped from where it hung over the sink, beside the thatch of lavender he had pinned to the cabinet. Slowly, contemplatively, he popped another ripe blueberry into his mouth. It was strange—children were a foreign concept for him and his section of the farm. Still, God always seemed to teach his son in ways that required labor, and this proved to be no exception.
With resignation, he pressed his forehead to the window frame and closed his eyes. He listened with all his heart for some word or anything from God, but all he could hear was the ticking clock. He knew nothing of anything transpiring on the grass. By the time he opened his eyes again, the rain was heavier than he had seen it all summer.
. . .
The children raced as swiftly as they could through the grassy field, toward the path that entered the property. Abby threw the occasional glance over her shoulder, but Ethan grabbed her hand and with a "Come on!" and they continued across the field. More than once, she stumbled in the saturated grass, and Ethan had to pull her along. Bells clanged as sheep raised their heads with curiosity at the fugitives, and even the horses released a friendly whicker or two. But the children paid no mind, and instead ran as though they were being chased, splashing mud onto their pants and jumper.
As the cottage grew smaller and they drew nearer to a wooded area, they slowed to an alert pace.
The open fields they had sprinted across had ended abruptly against dense woods, which Ethan stepped into and began to peer around.
"This way," he murmured as he sneaked through the trees. "We might be spit out somewhere we can hide or something."
Mushrooms peppered the most earth. Abby craned her neck back to stare up at the pines and evergreens as she meandered around, startled by the raindrop that splashed onto her nose. She shook her away and unlatched the tweed satchel she brought.
"Are you hungry for some bread?" she asked.
"Sure," Ethan answered as he reached out and received a slice. A blackbird skipped along the ground beside them, and Abby tore a small shred from her crust and tossed it to the grateful creature. As Ethan chewed, he squinted through the woods and pointed triumphantly onward and to the left. "This way."
"Are you sure?" Abby mumbled as she trudged after him, the hem of her denim jumper soaked with mud. As she moved, she heard a soft squeak. Her eyes darted to a spiked creature beside her, a hedgehog, and she squealed. The hedgehog scurried away as fast as he could, with the girl tailing and Ethan running and shouting after her, until it reached its little den.
"Abby, where are you going?" Ethan shouted.
"I saw a—!" she slipped and landed on her knees in the moist soil, satchel bursting open. She stuffed Little Women back inside, but gathered her oatmeal colored bear into her arms. "I'm sorry, Stanley."
"We have to go," Ethan hauled her up by the elbow and continued down the path until the main house could be seen through the brambles. "We can't get past that without getting caught!"
"What do we do?" Abby asked. The two glanced around them until Ethan broke into a smile. The hedge of blackberry vines were hollowed out in an area large enough for them to squeeze in together. A dense tree grew within the thicket and was enough to provide shelter from the rain, aside from the drops that dripped from the leaves to their heads.
"We should be safe here," Ethan said as they hunkered down together. "We'll find a way to leave before anyone knows we're missing."
Abby wrapped her arms around her dampened shins and rested her forehead on her knees. Tears streamed down her cheeks, despite Ethan's attempt to rub her back consolingly. "Stop crying," he said. "We're going to be all right. I promise. You'll see."
"How will we be all right?" she wailed as she raised her head. "We have nowhere to go. We're all alone out here!"
All at once, a small green frog leapt onto her knee. She giggled despite herself and poked it so that it leapt into the brambles. Ethan sneaked forward enough to peer through the entrance of the hole and survey the area. "No one can see us in here."
"And we do what?" Abby asked. "We're stuck here."
"What do you want to do?" Ethan demanded impatiently. "Go back to Dad?"
"No," she said fiercely. "I don't want to go back. I want to go home."
"Me, too," he released a sigh. "But that's not an option, Abbs."
He reached his arm around her shoulders, which began to shake with sobs. Although he refused to admit it aloud or to himself, he was no more reassured by their predicament than she was. And the sudden sound of an axe chopping into wood made him hold his sister close.
Meanwhile, Gavin leaned his shoulder against the doorframe and listened. The room was so silent that he wondered if his children had drifted into sleep. Although, that seemed strange for two children in the middle of the day. Either way, they needed to eat something. He knocked softly upon the door, and it creaked open. Cautiously, he peered through the crack with one sky blue eye. Gavin sensed the blood drain from his cheeks and he rushed away from the room and barely stopped to snatch his coat and Stetson before bursting through the back door.
Thus began his lonely trek down the wide dirt path past the livestock and the horses, through the grass where honey bees dipped into clover on the more sunny days, and through the gate that ended his section of the property.
The trees rustled in the wind. Sunlight pierced through the dark blanket of clouds and streamed down before him, but rain thrashed against his skin. By the time he reached his family's house, rain soaked through his clothes and hair. As he approached the back of their stone cottage, he could see his father swinging an axe into a massive log.
"What's the matter?" Cairbre demanded, straightening and tossing away the axe the moment he noticed the defeated countenance of his son.
"Ethan and Abby have left," replied his son as tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Cairbre gave his shoulder a squeeze and met his eyes with a staunch nod.
"We'll find them."
Abigeál peered out the window with a crease in her brow as her husband came through the back door. He explained the situation in shorthand, and she immediately leapt out the door behind them and joined in the search of all the fields and hiding places they could remember.
The children shivered together within their secret place. Rain streamed into their eyes and down their cheeks. Ethan observed everything he could see through the brambles as would the guard of a castle. There stood a blooming Rowan tree ahead, and behind this, one could see the back of a stone cottage. He was able to distinguish the sound of voices earlier, but they had since come and gone. He reached out to ease a vine aside from his line of vision, but a prick made him yelp.
"What happened?" Abby exclaimed and tried to get a look at the wound. Blood began to bead on his fingertip, but he shook it away and pressed his hand against jeans. The stinging caused him to suck in a deep breath before he spoke with as much strength in his tone as he could muster.
"Put my hand on a thorn. It startled me, but it didn't hurt."
"Let me see," Abby said and accepted his reluctant hand. Only the smallest crimson dot remained, so she allowed him his hand back without another word.
"Remember that time when Mom brought home her friend and we said we'd run away?" Ethan said with a small laugh. Abby smiled at the memory and gathered her things closer to protect them from the rain water. She rested her chin on the satchel and studied the hole at the seam of Ethan's jeans.
"What should we do if we get caught and have to go back with Dad?"
"We won't," Ethan assured her. "But if we did, we would have to get out again."
"But if running doesn't work," Abby persisted anxiously. "We have to come up with something else."
Suddenly realizing she may be right, Ethan considered her inquiry. "We could make him want to send us back to Mom as soon as possible."
Abby opened her mouth to speak, but nodded instead with a small smile of agreement. Tears began streaming down her cheeks. "Are we going to sleep here? We could see who lives in that house right there."
Ethan sensed the blood drain from his cheeks. "That's where Dad said his parents live."
Abby wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "Then maybe not."
At that moment, the two heard voices. They stared through the brambles and listened as much as they could with astonishment at the sound of their grandfather.
"The sun is going down," Cairbre remarked as he scanned the horizon with his eyes. "We are going to need to come up with something soon."
Gavin stepped so that his back was against the wall and closed his eyes. "They have no desire to be found, Da. I seriously doubt they're going to let me bring them home tonight."
Cairbre clamped both hands on his son's shoulders and stared him straight in the eye. "This is the most severe summer storm we have seen in years, and they will not sleep outside in it. You need to consider where you would go in their situation and find them before night sets in."
"I can't just—" as Gavin spoke, his eyes widened and he gently moved his father aside to sprint across the grass until he came to the dense blackberry vines his family always harvested every August. He squinted as he peered through the brambles and stepped softly alongside them. His heart thundered within his chest more rapidly the longer he searched until something caught his eye, and his heart leapt to his throat. Two pairs of eyes stared back at him with the likeness of deer in the headlights.
Cold mud seeped through his jeans when he knelt and extended his chilled hand to the children, who crawled shivering and defeated into his arms. He heaved Abby into his arms first, and passed her to Cairbre. Then he lifted Ethan and carried his son behind his father to the Ford truck often used for work, stopping to plop him in the back seat before climbing into the passenger seat.
The children stared somberly ahead at the rain splashing the windshield as the Ford rattled down the dirt path home and jostled into every hole on the way. Scenes of the grass and buttercups rolled past, and sheep raised their heads in curiosity.
. . .
Two hours later, the children had each showered and changed into their pajamas. Gavin seated them each on the sofa before a raging fire with a mug of the richest sweet cocoa. Not one had spoken a word, but Ethan scowled when he caught sight of his father in the recliner beside them, sewing the seam of the ripped pair of jeans.
"You're fortunate I can sew," he remarked when he realized his son was staring. Ethan returned his eyes to the fire with a set jaw. The heat of the fire radiated against his rosy cheeks and the aroma of charred wood was strong. He sneaked a glance beside him and met his sister's eye with a subtle nod.
Rain thrashed against the windows as harshly as ever. Wind groaned in the distance. And, at that moment, the lights sputtered and disappeared into darkness.
"How lovely," said Gavin bitterly.