“Don’t tell your brother I’m telling you about your mother, okay?”
Rita looked down at Brandon with a soft smile though she knew it wouldn’t help hide her strong thoughts on Brandon’s older brother. Brandon was as close to a real mind reader as anyone could get, and she had no doubt that he’d pick up on some thought of hers that would reveal something she hadn’t meant to reveal.
Brandon nodded. He seemed so young standing before her with his large eyes examining her face carefully as he listened to more than her words, but he held his lips together in a straight line with the corners almost turned down in an expression much too old for his face. He looked so serious that it almost broke her heart. “Okay. He wouldn’t like it, would he?”
She shook her head. “No. Your brother doesn’t exactly like your mother. He doesn’t want to understand her either. Not that I haven’t tried.” It was probably the reason Jimmy avoided her now as an adult.
Rita pulled at the weeds around her grape bush as she remembered the way Vivian’s grey eyes would shine so brightly when she actually smiled knowing every little bit would help Brandon see and understand. “Your mother and I were both young girls when the Revolution happened. Hardly older than you are now.” Moist dirt stuck to the roots of the weeds she pulled up swinging grains of sand onto her pants. “We both lived in the support city before the Revolution. Our parents worked for the labs. Her father was one of the maintenance people, you see. And my mother was…” Rita stopped as she remembered her mother’s white coat against her dark skin.
By the way Brandon’s brows lifted ever so slightly, she knew he’d caught the image in her thoughts. “What was she?”
It meant nothing to him, but to her it had become something of a private shame though it had once been her mother’s greatest pride. She had often talked about what it represented for their family, and how no one had expected that she’d make it so far.
Rita rubbed at her forehead with her wrist. “It’s not really important. Your mom and I knew each other. We always played together. There were plenty of families in those days. All of us were support for the labs.”
Brandon glanced down at his own feet. She was no mind reader, but she could see him thinking. She paused and he looked up, his bright eyes shining their concern. “The labs were bad.”
“But you’re not bad.” He said it as a fact not a question.
She tried to smile at him. “I sure hope I’m not.”
Brandon didn’t smile with her. He shook his head, his dark hair falling into his eyes. “You’re not.”
She scooted over to the next plant, her knees pressing into the soft dirt. “No one is all good or all bad, Brandon. We all have our faults. We’re all human.” It was the one lesson she wanted to share with him and his brother, but his brother had stopped listening. Only Brandon was left and one day he would stop listening as well.
“Anyway,” she said as she began tugging at the weeds again. “When the Revolution happened, both of us lost our parents.” She swallowed, pushing that thought back. “It was chaos in the days after the initial break out. It took a while, but things began to settle. They needed us. And we needed them. It was your father who came up with the idea of the villages.”
She nodded, surprised at his surprise. Did the man even speak to his son? “Yes. He decreed that villages would be off limits. The humans who lived in the villages would continue doing what they had done before the labs fell. He gathered us, and we worked out the details. Which meant that orphans like me and your mother,” Rita paused again as she tried not to remember though she was sure Brandon would catch the single worded thought on her brain. “We were put in special homes with other orphans.” It had been luck.
Rita paused again, trying her best not to remember that part but unsure how to proceed without it. The home she and Vivian had lived in was the reason they had made their pact. It wasn’t a thought she wanted to give to the boy. Brandon wouldn’t be innocent long, but she wouldn’t attribute to his ruin.
“We didn’t have much choice. And back then, when things were so chaotic, the people in charge were trying their hardest to secure the future.” She glanced away from Brandon, his small feet still in her peripheral vision. “So they were determined to set up our lives. We would most likely be picked partners, learn a trade, and set to work helping.”
“Yes, like farming or learning how to fix things or how to work some of the machines. Everything was useful. They didn’t want any knowledge to go to waste.” Rita wiped the dirt from her pants with the back of her hand. “We were so young, we had some time. But not enough. Your mother–” She let her words trail off as she tried to think about how she would really explain his mother to him.
Brandon looked at her expectantly, squatting to look into her face as she got to the part he had obviously most wanted to hear.
“Your mother was a free spirit. She didn’t like being tied down and being told what to do.” Vivian’s gray eyes shining fiercely floated to the top of her memories. Sometimes angry, sometimes wistful, Vivian was always dreaming about things that couldn’t be. “It is difficult to be told what you’ll have to do. It’s not something either of us was used to.”
Brandon almost tilted his head as his blue eyes examined her, trying to imagine and understand her words even as he listened for her thoughts. Rita sat back bringing her feet forward so she could look up at him. It would be impossible to explain it to him. Brandon’s own future was planned out and he had no say in it. He didn’t even realize that having a say could have ever been a possibility once upon a time in a world where he most likely would never have come to be.
Rita sighed as Brandon sat down in front of her pulling his legs underneath him. “Your mother was beautiful, you know. She was gorgeous. Striking. By the time we were almost teenagers, she looked like a smaller version of a full grown woman. Men and boys, when they caught a glimpse of her eyes, usually looked away from her. It wasn’t just the color, it was everything about her. In her eyes they could read her thoughts, and they were scared that she’d reject them just with a look.”
Brandon perked up. “She had a power too?”
Rita lowered her chin as she looked at him through her lashes. “No, sorry, honey. She was human like me. But she was an amazing soul and it could be read in her clear gray eyes.”
“Like Jimmy’s eyes?”
She nodded even as her muscles tensed to hold back her small shudder. Yes, Vivian’s oldest son had her eyes and used them just as sharply. There was a cold look to his eyes, not dead, but of warning. Most people avoided looking him in the eyes completely.
“Yes, like Jimmy’s eyes.”
Brandon looked up at her, his own eyes catching the afternoon light. His eyes were blue like the water at The Edge that lapped at the land. Despite their cool color, they were warm and friendly eyes, quite different from his brother, his mother, and even what she had seen of his father. “So what happened?”
Rita leaned back, her hand sinking into the loose earth. “Well, your mother didn’t want to be told who she would end up with. So she chose.”
She could hear it in his voice, the dubiousness, the disbelief. Brandon had never met Jimmy’s father. He died before Brandon had even been born, but he knew enough about him. Everyone did by now, though no one spoke about it. It was now part of someone else’s past and as such not a fitting topic for conversation.
“Yes. She chose Jimmy’s father– Mr. Smith’s second in command. Your father’s second in command. At the time, we had no clue. He was strong then, large, but close to our age. He used to smile once. She wanted away from here and she wanted protection and he would provide both. So she became pregnant. With Jimmy. Though we didn’t know it was Jimmy yet. And he took her with him. Your father, Mr. Smith, wasn’t happy.”
Brandon crinkled his nose. “He’s never happy.”
Rita smiled again though she knew he was serious. “Mr. Smith didn’t want his men plucking women from the village here. He still doesn’t. We need people here working as support for him and his people who protect us, and it can get complicated once they leave.” She swallowed as she tried to not think about it. The village strove to remain stagnant in population out of fear of too much growth. Too many people would be a burden, but too few would be a hardship. Once a person left the village, they were not expected to return.
Brandon looked down at the ground, his thick dark hair falling into his face before he looked back up at her. “Do you know where she went?”
Rita took in a breath too quickly. She bit her lip as the soft breeze dried the extra moisture in her eyes. Brandon probably would never really stop looking for Vivian. Some part of him would always hope for the return of his mother. “No, honey. She always was a planner though. I’m sure she is out there somewhere.”
His large blue eyes, earlier so warm and innocent, narrowed ever so slightly. The same breeze that stung her eyes blew his hair into his face and he shoved it back as he stood up, his eyes falling to the ground. “Thanks.” He murmured the word so softly that she almost didn’t hear him at first.
Rita also stood wanting to pull him into her arms and hug him. Though she suspected that he wouldn’t fight it, she also worried she’d end up embarrassing him in front of the other children, and she knew better than that. The world he was growing up in was different than the world she and Vivian had grown up in. Perception was just as important as ability. She didn’t want to make him appear weak especially in comparison to his brother.
Brandon stepped over to the fence ready to slide between the slats the same way he’d come in when the back door to Rita’s house opened widely. Patrice, Rita’s daughter, stopped suddenly at the sight of the stranger in the yard, her mouth partially open as if she’d meant to say something to her mother right away. Brandon froze next to her with his eyes on Pat.
A male voice, deep yet still young, came from the opposite direction outside of the fence. He walked up the hill briskly as he spoke in harshly clipped words. “Brandon. I was looking for you.”
Brandon glanced up at Rita as he bit at his lip looking every bit his age. He slid between the rails of the fence as Rita caught the eyes of the young man walking up. Gently, she pulled her lips back keeping them closed as she acknowledged him with a small nod. For an instant, she held his cold, sharp, gray eyes before he looked away down at his little brother. “C’mon.” He gave his brother a small shove in the direction out of town, pushing him on ahead and following behind him without even glancing back at Rita.
Pat didn’t move. She stayed in the doorway watching her mother with wide eyes as Rita stepped over to her. “Mom, do you know who they were?”
“Yes, I know.” Rita ignored her daughter’s mouth falling open. “Did you come out here for a reason?”
“Uhm, Dad needed you to help him at the bar. Someone brought in rabbit to be cooked.”
Rita nodded. “Okay. I’ll be in there in one minute.” She watched Pat start to shut the door when a thought occurred to her. One hand shot out and gripped the door surprising her daughter who looked up at her with round brown eyes. “Patti, don’t mention this to your father, okay, honey? You know how he worries.”
Pat raised both her eyebrows before lowering them again as she exhaled a breath and narrowed her eyes. Rita half expected a discussion of some sort. So it surprised her when Pat simply said, “Okay.”
Rita thanked her with a smile and a soft pat on the head. In many ways, Pat was so very much like her father. She didn’t trust any of the tribe people even if they did work to protect the village, and she couldn’t condone Rita’s association with them. But Pat had her own lessons she would have to learn as well.