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“Easy there, Little One,” my father said when I opened my eyes. He was seated on the edge of my bed. “You must be more cautious, Bria. Your mother is in the other room tearing herself to pieces.”
“Can I sit up?” I asked. I felt fine, other than the constant throb of my brain against my skull.
He slipped a hand behind my back to ease the transition. “Is it bad?” He touched my forehead. I winced away. “Here.” He cupped my head in his palms and hummed softly. The vibration niggled its way to the center of my headache. I took a deep breath and let the hurt dissolve.
“Don’t think of it,” Father said.
“You’ll have to teach me that trick.” I’d been asking him to test my aptitude for what I’d termed The Touch since I was Jana’s age. Jana and Elric had already developed the skill, but if I was able to heal with my hands, the ability hadn’t shown itself yet.
Father sighed. “I think you have enough on your plate right now. I’ll tell your mother you’re up.”
“No need,” I said, pointing behind him. Mother was standing in the doorway squeezing one set of fingertips, then the other.
Father cleared his throat and stood. He took Mother’s small, brown hands in his own. You wouldn’t know that she could nearly match him for strength by the difference between them. Father was tall and lean while Mother was short and slight. Still, she’d been born to haul up fishing nets and tie a sail against the wind. Prior to meeting Mother, Father had been a nomad, breeding the woolly beasts of the desert and riding great, lumbering steeds over dunes much like the ones that had gotten me into this mess.
Tears choked me as Mother sat down next to me. “Stupid,” was all I could get out. I was an idiot. I felt every inch a fool.
Mother was silent for a moment. She kept herself closed off, stroking my hair slowly. “Impulsive, maybe,” she said. “Not stupid.”
I could feel Helene despite that she lived clear across the bowl. She was the ache behind the throbbing in my head. Turning my attention toward her undid my father’s healing touch. I put my palms against either side of my head. “I’m irrevocably bonded with a girl who just lost the boy she was knotted to and now wants to kill herself.”
Mother sucked in a breath. “Knotted? You’re sure?”
“Yes. Absolutely.” I put my face in my hands. They were in bad need of moisturizer. The way my palms scratched my face felt good in a way. It distracted me from Helene’s pain, which was now slamming itself against the wall it was taking all my energy to keep erected. I looked up at Mother. “Why is this so hard?”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“It’s like Helene is right here, right beside me, slamming herself against the bond like she wants to get out of her own head and into mine.”
Mother merged with me suddenly. I’d never felt her open up as quickly. I concentrated on breathing evenly as she probed the weakening wall in my head. Her presence shifted inside me, traveling out along the bond to Helene. She was scouring every inch of the rope that tied us together. “Pfft.” She withdrew and closed herself to me again. “Jana!”
My sister poked her head into the doorway.
“Can you show Bria how to strengthen her defenses on this bond? Helene is coming here.”
“What?” I nearly shouted as Jana nodded. “Here? There’s no way I can keep this up face to face-“
“You have to,” Mother said sharply. “Jana will show you how to reinforce that block so you can keep some energy for yourself. You have to learn this quickly, Bria. She’ll be here soon, and if you don’t stay strong, Helene will find a way inside her head.”
Jana was taking my hands in hers, her green eyes fastened on my gray ones. “I’ll help you, Bria,” she said, but I couldn’t be sure. I never learned quickly. Not as quickly as Jana. “I know some tricks,” she told me. “And I won’t leave you.”
I realized that Jana was open to me now. She’d never even shut herself when I was asleep. As far as sisters go, I knew I couldn’t ask for a better one. Even though bonding had gotten me into trouble, I was grateful for it. I didn’t know any other teen sisters who were as closely attuned to one another as Jana and I. She was more than family. She was more than a friend. She was a facet of myself. I’d bonded to her at birth, and our bond was echoed and strengthened by the bonds we both held to our mother. Neither of us could hurt without the other feeling it. Neither of us could be happy without the other sharing it. Some might find this way of living to be lacking in privacy, but there was an immense joy in it that outweighed any disadvantages. We knew when to come to each other’s aid, pass on feelings of warmth, or leave each other in peace. It was hard to overstep when you understood on an instinctual level the needs of the person you were in potential conflict with.
“Like this,” Jana was saying, and I watched her turn the weave I’d used for my wall on its side and lay it on top of my weave. “You can repeat this,” she said. “Or you can stack on different weaves.” She added a weave that looked like a thousand knots, then turned it and laid it down again. “When you’re done, tie it off. That way you don’t have to hold the ends.” She showed me how to make the tie. Her weaves disappeared. “You do it.”
I closed my eyes and focused myself at creating a duplicate of the wall I’d built. I wasn’t a quick learner, but the constantly increasing strength of Helene’s emotions really made me run the gamut. I started the knots.
“No. Open your eyes.”
Jana was in my face, holding my cheeks between her hands. “You don’t have time to make 2,000 knots. Think of the pattern and tie 1,000 at once.”
Of course. I closed my eyes and thought of the pattern. I tied one hundred knots.
“No,” Jana said, and my weave disappeared. “Bigger.”
I set my teeth and tried again. Ten times one hundred. I dropped the weave onto my wall. Helene’s presence was muted. “Wow.”
“Turn it,” Jana told me. “Stay focused. Do it again.”
I duplicated the thousand.
“Good. Now you need to seal it off.”
“Seal it. Right. Show me again.”
Jana repeated the tie. It disappeared and I started my own. I got it after maybe five tries.
“Let it go.” Jana, always calm. Always sure.
I held the end of the tie.
“Bria, drop it or it won’t do you any good. Don’t be scared. It will stay.” Her hands were squeezing mine. She showed me how to drop the tie. “Breathe and let it go.”
“No time like the present.” I let the tie go. It didn’t unravel, but my mind did. Jana caught my jumble of emotions. She smiled.
“You did it!”
I smiled, too. “It feels good. How do you figure this stuff out?”
Jana shrugged, embarrassed by my awe.
For a moment, I was able just to look at her. She was very nearly a reflection of my mother; her hair long and wavy, flung back behind her shoulders. Her green eyes neither large or small, but unnerving. She was slight, but strong. Quiet, intense, and adept at any skill that ran latent in any member of our family, young or old, immediate or distant. I wondered how many more skills she would uncover before maturity. As it was, she was only thirteen. How could I not be awed by her?
“You have your own gifts,” she said quietly.
I grinned at her, my own wavy hair falling in my face as I shifted on the bed. “Do you know what they are?”
Jana gaped until I laughed to show her I wasn’t serious. Not this time. But we neither got much relief because there was a knock at the door and we both knew who it was.
I hopped off the bed and smoothed my hair and clothes.
“Don’t do anything unexpected,” my brother said when I passed him on the way to the door. I glanced at him over my shoulder and frowned. He shrugged and made himself scarce.
Deep breath. Deep, slow breath. I opened the door.
Click here for Episode 4 of The Docks.