The Mexican Redknee perched on his stone with anticipation when Alasdair dropped a small container into the aquarium and crickets emerged out of the hole. He reached up as the spider approached his prey and pulled the lamp chain that consumed his room into darkness, "A Ball of Earth" by Beecake shouting in his ears. Then he extended his arms and brushed his palm across the wood frame of his bunkbed and climbed up the ladder. As he crawled beneath the covers, he pulled the earbuds out of his ears and enjoyed the rain showering against his window.
A distant whimper was almost lost in the rain and wind rustling in the trees. Alasdair, attentive to the sound of his mother, strained to hear any activity downstairs amidst the storm.
Downstairs on the sofa, tears splattered against the ivory shawl with embroidered pink roses Abigeál pulled snugly around her shoulders as she pressed her eyes to her knees. The soft ticking of the grandfather clock was smothered by the sounds of her muffled sobs. Alasdair crept through the darkness, eyeing his mother as the wood creaked eerily beneath his bare feet.
"Ma?" he called softly, emerging into the room. "What's going on?"
Cairbre approached him from behind and moved to console his miserable wife.
"What is going on?" Alasdair demanded with his heart beating more and more rapidly. A dozen scenarios with various family members darted around his mind, each more worthy of panic than the last. Abigeál raised her eyes and, swallowing hard, managed to shudder through her explanation.
"Both me sister May and Carl were killed in an accident in the States," she gulped and smeared her wrist across her nose. "It was raining, and they just…"
Alasdair dropped down beside her, laying a hand on her knee. He considered the news as her sobs rattled the night air. Suddenly, he asked "What about Annabelle? Was she with them?"
"She was," answered Cairbre. "But she survived. She has been left to our care, and Rearden is arranging to bring her here at this moment."
Alasdair blinked with surprise. "Rearden's coming home?"
"Yes," Abigeál managed a smile through her tears. "The one ray of hope in this is that Rearden's coming home."
After several mornings, the sun rose to a crisp dawn. Its rays shimmered in the dew on the dandelions and streamed across the kitchen, where Gavin was slicing sourdough bread and Alasdair was draping onto it folds of carved roast beef. Calder reached into the refrigerator and extracted several bottles of Coke by the neck. Several roses lined the counters, where Melia prepared their crystal vases into which Callum placed the stems gently. Abigeál directed Liam to sweep the dust over the wood and out the back door, and then to prune the perfumed roses around the house.
"Get your room cleaned up, because I don't know where Rearden plans to sleep tonight!" she called to Alasdair. "I meant to go up there and make sure a second bed was made, but –"
"I got it, Ma!" he sprinted out of the kitchen and up to the stairs that reached the attic. The sun was spreading across the room, and warmed him when he scrambled up the stairs to cast a sheet over the tarantula tank. "Today is not the day Ma should see you the first time, Tiger."
The creature peered at him curiously until he disappeared behind the sheet. Alasdair peered around him and started toward the antique dresser to check for extra sheets in the bottom drawer. Seeing at least two, he started to prepare the bunk beneath his.
"He's here!" Abigeál shrieked excitedly within minutes. Alasdair shoved a pillow down into its case, pitched it onto the bed, and rushed to the window in time to see his brother emerge out of the passenger side of a car with the rest of their family spilling outside to greet him.
Alasdair leapt down the ladder and peeled around the corners of his angular house until he darted outside into the sunshine. Rearden received him into his arms and raised him up with the rich laughter his family was accustomed to, then murmured, "Can't wait to meet your roommate."
"Ma's got no idea, so be subtle!" Alasdair hissed in return as Rearden replaced him on the ground and reached into his pocket for a vibrant orange package of fruit fusion gum.
"Saw this and thought of you."
"Awesome," Alasdair accepted it and instantly ripped out a stick to unwrap and push into his mouth. He smiled at the bronze visage ahead of him and slapped his arm. "Look at you, tanned as a cowboy from the old west! And look at you," his pitch rose when he crouched down to the small girl standing beside him. She was about two, with strawberry blond waves at her shoulders and she peered at him with mint eyes. "You are a beautiful lass, aren't you?"
He reached out to shake her hand, and she tentatively returned his grasp. Rearden smiled down at her and said, "She is definitely a mature girl. Been braver than most anyone else would be in her situation, I would say."
"Come inside," Abigeál encouraged. "We have made sandwiches, and there is juice."
"I appreciate all that, Ma," Rearden kissed her cheek and raised Annabelle into his arms to deliver her into the house. Alasdair beat him into the kitchen to present him with a sandwich and a bottle of Coke, which he readily accepted, then dropped into a chair at the table.
"So how about you share some of your adventures?"
"I'd rather here some of yours," Rearden answered with the warmth of affection in his brown eyes as he addressed them to each person.
"Alasdair has invited his lovely girl to have supper with us this evening," Abigeál explained, "in lieu of a previously planned date. So you enjoy yourself in whatever way you choose, and maybe you can share some of your adventures with us then."
Alasdair closed the door behind him to meet Emily with a small bouquet of crimson carnations, scarlet and golden hyacinth, coral heather, and orange anemone. When she arrived, they met with a kiss before he presented his gift. She raised her illuminated hazel eyes and kissed him again.
"These are beautiful."
"Their beauty cannot match yours."
She smiled and pursued him into the house to accompany the family at the dinner table. As Abigeál served a bacon and cabbage casserole, Alasdair presented his girlfriend with a flourish, and Rearden rose to shake her hand.
"You are as lovely as he described," Rearden praised as he shook her hand across the table and reseated himself.
"And you are as weathered," she teased and tucked a short auburn tendril behind her ear. "I hear you are quite the adventurer, and that there were stories to be told this evening."
"Yes, there are a lot of stories. Some may interest you. But Alasdair wants me to explain getting caught in a bear trap, I assume," he sent a teasing smile toward his brother. Alasdair raised his shoulders with innocent palms up.
"I'm only the one who expressed it. Got a scar to prove it?"
"Yup," Rearden leaned down and raised the hem of his jeans. "Proof for life."
"Rearden, I do not want to see that," Abigeál admonished as she cradled Annabelle in her arms beside them. His smile diminished into a solemn line within moments.
"I promise I'm all right, Ma."
"What about some of your other adventures?" Emily clasped her hands together and leaned her elbows on the table. "You rode wild horses, right? And you caught some criminals in the act?"
"Something like that," Rearden gave a wry smile and adjusted his seat. He answered every inquiry that accompanied the mention of the stories until dishes were gathered, washed, dried, and put away. A smile directed to him at the end of the prank stories snapped Alasdair to attention.
"Well, I suppose I should be leaving," Emily rose and bent to kiss Alasdair on the lips. She then reached across to Rearden and shook his hand. "It was lovely to meet you."
"My pleasure," he answered with a polite nod, and a smile that made her cheeks redden. Alasdair bristled, but the emotion was stifled when Annabelle started to cry. Abigeál raised her out of her seat and cradled her against her shoulder.
"Poor darling must be exhausted. Rearden, you must be as well."
"I'll stay up and get myself on our schedule," he answered.
"Well, at least stay one night with us. Will you do that?"
"Sure," Rearden smirked. "Alasdair must have gotten lonely in that room, all by himself."
Alasdair almost snorted with laughter, but smothered it with a cough. While he cleared the table, Rearden curled up on one of the chairs in the living room and enjoyed the surrounding sounds of his family until it was time for them to leave and for him to go to sleep.
"Meet Tiger," Alasdair said as he removed the sheet from the glass tank. The spider was perched on a small log, but raised one leg to attempt to prod at Rearden, who bent down to examine the creature with a spark in his brown eyes.
"Look at that," he mused in awe. "And Ma has no idea."
"Sneaked him in when they were away. Pretty easy."
Rearden straightened and made his way to the bottom bunk. Rain started against the window again as the two settled beneath their covers.
"Alasdair?" Rearden eventually asked in the hoarse tone of someone drifting into sleep.
"Yeah?" he answered.
"What about you? How has your life been going?"
"Doing some stunts in commercials and the pictures, classes at the local college. Getting all the physical education, biology, and all that out of the way so I can get to medical school whenever the stunt business blows up in me face, if it ever does. Also been waiting tables at a mate's restaurant and volunteering with the children's hospital and the emergency department."
Rearden gave a murmur of approval. "What made you want to become a doctor?"
"You all, as we grew up and pulled so much crap that got us injured. Watching Ma and then Callum attend to each of us when we got ourselves hurt. Realizing that a doctor will always be needed in our world, to soothe hurts and heal wounds, no matter what the economy is and no matter what happens."
Rearden chuckled. "Any specialty?"
"Pediatrics," Alasdair answered with the shiver of excitement he always got when he devoted any attention to his aspirations, "but I want to be able and capable of handling any situation that comes at me. So if an adult I know needs help, I can do that. Same with any children."
"That is a great idea," came the more hoarse reply. "There is never a shortage of needing medical attention, is there?"
Alasdair considered his words. They were true, which was one of the reasons why he chose that profession. He cleared his throat and asked in the respectful manner he could, "You lost one of your mates out there, right?"
Rearden swallowed. "Yeah."
"I was sorry to hear that. Especially with May and Carl…"
"Appreciate it. I have to remember I'll see them again," Rearden breathed deeply and asked, "Do you ever imagine the people in Heaven, or what a relief it must have been to see Jesus?"
Alasdair wished desperately he could say yes to reassure him, but answered, "No, can't say I have."
And with that, they slept.