Chapter XVII: Rough Beginnings

“Just keep yourself safe, lovely,” Mel said as she hugged the young girl once more.

Lucy had explained to the baker that the Top Hats were allowing her to work for them.  She never quite specified what the job was exactly.  That morning was chaotic, as helping hands filled their space moving Adrian and Lucy from the house.  Andrew was left, once more, in charge of selling the piece of property while the rest of the kitchenware went to Mel.

The baker hugged her once again. “Call me whenever you need something.  Even just to meet for coffee.”

“I promise I will.  Every second I get,” the redhead winked.

They bid each other adieu, and Lucy sighed as she picked up the last of her suitcases.  As she passed the threshold, Lucy felt her mind immediately begin buzzing with all sorts of thoughts.  Her heart raced.

“Lucy!” Adrian chimed from the hallway.  “I am sharing a room with the boy from down the lane!” He beamed and the sister couldn’t help but smile back.

“Maybe he can help you unpack?” she suggested, teasingly.

“I’ll see you later!” he yelled running back up.

Lucy sighed.  Adrian may have grown into a young man, but he still had so much to learn.

“Need a hand?” a familiar voice asked.

Lucy looked to her right and found Sebastian carefully easing one of the suitcases out of her hand.

“Thanks,” she said as they walked down the arching halls.

“We really haven’t gotten time ourselves since this whole thing got started,” Sebastian pointed out.

“You’re right,” Lucy agreed, awkwardly shifting her bag to the other hand.

Silence.  No matter how much their mother’s death had reunited them, the siblings were beginning to realize the difficult in picking up their pieces that had been collecting dust for four years.

“Why didn’t you try, Sebastian?” Lucy finally asked.

“I wanted to, Lulu.  God.  Not a day went by that the thought didn’t cross my mind.  I mean, you are my twin – deeper than any sibling bond!  But they forbid it, and there were consequences.  Painful consequences.”

Lucy sighed, looking at her brother.  Finally, she spoke the two words that broke all the weight and webs between them. “I understand.”

Sebastian stopped and eyed his sister. “Do you actually mean it, or are you just saying it?”

“I forgive you,” she tried again. “It isn’t something you could control, and it isn’t something worth holding onto.  I’m letting it go.”

They continued to walk and turn until they made it to the a dormitory outside of the usual line.

“Does that mean. . .you forgive Andrew?” Sebastian questioned nervously.

Lucy played with the thought. “Yeah, I suppose I do.  It’ll take time for us to get close again, but he is still my brother. It’s hard to describe.”

Sebastian smiled as they made their way past the various doors.

“And Dad?”

Lucy stopped.  That idea froze her.

“One day we will meet again.  And you’ll see.  I’ll prove to you that I can do it.  I’ll make Mum proud.  And you won’t even recognize your little girl anymore. . .”

“I hope so,” Lucy bit her lip. “But he needs to see I can do this.”

They continued the rest of the way in silence until they made it to the room .  Lucy had found herself in two weeks ago.

“I’ll stop by later to see how you are settling in,” Sebastian said, passing off the bag.

“Good,” Lucy smiled. “You’ll need to show me all the things you’ve learned.”  She winked as Sebastian’s face brightened.

“You’ll be so impressed!” He grinned. “Lewis says I may be even better at fire play than Andrew.”

“Well, you are my twin.  Clearly you must be.”

They laughed together for the first time since they had seen one another.

“Cheers, Lulu,” chuckled Sebastian.

“Cheers,” she giggled, shutting the door behind her, leaning her forehead against the old wood.

All she wanted was to fall onto her bed and sleep.  She was beyond tired.  But unpacking need to be done.  And cleaning, to be sure.

The rest of the morning was spent dusting, organizing and folding the few possessions she had.  Lucy eyed the familiar quilt on her bed and decided the ravens could stay.  Perhaps, she could take time to change the birds into something a bit more colourful.  She wasn’t utterly useless with a needle and thread.

As she finished packing away the last of her things, the girl turned to the final two boxes filled with her mother’s memories.  It was too soon for her to unpack them just yet.  So as she hummed her mother’s Gaelic lullaby, she carefully tucked the boxes under her bed.  The only keepsake she left out was the letter her mother wrote, which he left resting besides the oil lamp on her dresser.  It was her last touch and as soon as it was done, Lucy rolled to her bed and closed her eyes.

She had only been asleep maybe twenty minutes, when there came a pounding on the door.

“No,” groaned the grumpy youth, taking a pillow and pressing it over her head.

The beating didn’t stop.  It only got more agitated.

“What?!” Lucy yelled, throwing the pillow to her lap to properly glare at the door.

The entrance flew open to the chilling cloaked man.  His arms were as crossed as his tone.

“What are you doing?” Vaan asked in annoyance.

Lucy blushed in embarrassment and quick discarded her glare.  “I was tired,” she tried to explain.

“Come with me.  It is almost lunch time.”

“That’s okay, I’m not all that hungry,” Lucy smiled.

“You act as if you have a choice.”

Lucy’s smile vanished.

“Be ready in five minutes.  I’ll be outside,” he said.  And with that, the door slammed shut.

Lucy felt her hands pulse in irritation.  The nerve of that man!

Lucy grumbled as she put her stocking feet into low heeled boots and straightened out her black sweater and skirt.  Looking at herself in the nearby mirror, she realized there wasn’t much she could do with her mop of curls but simply pin back her bangs.

“Your majesty,” Lucy clicked, daring a mocking curtsy.

Vaan shifted to one foot and eyed the girl.  Finally, he spoke. “We’ll need to go over what is appropriate for an apprentice to wear, much less a girl.”  With that, he turned on his heels and they walked down the all-too quiet hallway.

Lucy had decided at that particular moment, she did not like this Top Hat.  Not one bit.

They went straight across going down one of the long staircases Lucy recognized from her earlier escapades.  Looping here and there -finally they reached around the archway and into the hall of Top Hats.  Lucy curled her hands tighter together as her boots padded across the soft carpet.  Lucy caught sight of the pale sheet draped across picture that smelt of fresh paint.  She paused, her heart racing as her hand traveled up.  Vaan paused to look back at Lucy.

“Lucy!”

Lucy turned back, her cheeks burning as she quickly turned to rush up beside him.

“This way,” he motioned taking her through another hall and looping about another corridor until they arrived at two towering double doors.

“Are we going in?” Lucy whispered.

Vaan glared in aggravation before opening the right door.  The colour instantly drained from Lucy’s face.

The whole hall was filled with Top Hats seated on a level slightly above the tables of the apprentices.  All were standing – waiting.

Vaan walked with a quick ease on the smooth wooden floor to take his spot near Winston at the head of the long table.

“How nice of you to join us,” Winston chided, the completely mortified girl.

“I-I’m so sorry!” Lucy’s dry voice stuttered as she looked for her spot.

“Ahem!” coughed Sebastian, pointing to a nearby empty seat.

Lucy rushed over and awkwardly placed herself between Sebastian and his friend Marley.

All was quiet.  But then, a beautiful song hummed to life around her.

Basses and tenors swirled together in rich timbres as the collage of male voices gave thanks for their meal.  The music pricked Lucy as melody swooped up into a peak before settling into a warm cadence.  And the grace ended.

The Top Hats looked to one another and sat down first.  The apprentices followed suite soon thereafter.  Laughter and talking erupted to life as men and boys began to pass bowls of food amongst themselves.

Lucy sat down and eyed her twin carefully as she place her napkin in her lap.  “Were you all really waiting for me?”

Sebastian just bit his lip and winced as he passed her the salad.

“Ugh!” Lucy groaned, her cheeks still pink in shame.

“So she’s really your twin?” Marley gaped, food still in his mouth.

“No, I’m just a figment of your imagination,” Lucy rolled her eyes, picking up a piece of bread before passing it on.

“Gee, she’s quite the sassy one,” Marley snipped back.

“And you talk to me as if I weren’t even here.  The ‘she’ has a name, you know.”

“And, what would that be?” a young boy with thick ash-coloured hair asked.

Lucy felt heat rise to her cheeks again.  Her mother would be disappointed in her manners.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m Lucy.  Lucy O’ Rourke.”  She looked back up and the tall boy was laughing.

“‘S alright.  I’m Brandon.  Apprentice to that fellow up there.”  He nodded towards a solemn looking man, much shorter than even Lucy. The man glanced her way but once, his sharp blue eyes digging into her like nails in wood.  He brought a hand up to his trim back beard and turned to face his neighbor, all the while his lips curled in and down in a bitter scowl.  “His name is Thornton.”

“He looks quite. . .serious,” Lucy said, struggling with her words.

“He always looks like that,” Brandon said  nonchalantly, turning back towards his dinner.

“At least yours takes you seriously,” a boy with jet black hair pointed out, his blue eyes flickering over at Brandon.

Brandon couldn’t help but laugh and pat the poor boy on the back. “This is true.  You just need to earn Kivan’s respect.”

“What do you mean?” Lucy asked, watching the boys.

“Every Top Hat is different, but you need to earn their respect before you can really be qualified to be truly part of the Society.  It’s hard to explain.  Sort of an unwritten rule,” Sebastian said.  “For example, Lewis won’t respect me until I’ve purified my first soul.”

“And Thornton won’t respect me until I’ve summoned my first dragon,” Brandon cut in.

“And Zachariah won’t respect me until I’ve gained the patience of Girflet,” Marley scoffed.

“Girflet?” Lucy asked.

“One of the twelve dragons,” Sebastian explained without missing a beat.

“Your Top Hat will explain it to you,” Kivan’s apprentice added.

“Hold it, hold it,” Lucy lifted up her hands in defeat.  “Look.  I’m still new at this.  I don’t even have a Top Hat who’s in charge of me. ”

“Sure you do,” The blue-eyed youth laughed.

“And who would that be?”  Lucy raised an eyebrow as she brought her cup to her lips.

“Vaan, of course.” Brandon pointed out.

Lucy snorted into her cup, breaking out into a fit of laughter.  “No way.  He is definitely not my Top Hat.”

Sebastian shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Lucy, you can’t choose your teacher.”

The girl was left in shock. “I’m sorry, but I should be able to decide who will be teaching me, and who won’t.  And I will not be apprentice to some arrogant pri”  Lucy turned to look up at the tables only to feel the colour drain from her face once more.  Vaan was watching her every movement and from the way his arms were folded, he had understood every word she had said.

“Well, think what you want, Lucy,” Sebastian sighed. “You’ll realize it soon enough.”

“Rubbish, absolute rubbish,” grumbled the girl, ducking her head behind her brother’s shoulder.  She quickly changed the subject. “So what exactly do you need to do to earn Kivan’s respect?”

“Find myself,” the boy groaned.

“Find yourself?  Couldn’t you just say your name?”

“Not as easy as it sounds.”

The bell from the Clock Tower rang two times, signally that the meal had concluded.  The Top Hats rose from the chairs as the apprentices stood and began to clear away plates and bowls.  Lucy quickly followed suit before looking back at the blue-eyed boy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t even catch your name?” she asked through the clattering of glasses.

Before he could even speak, a thick Scottish accent flew out along with a thick hand that clasped her on the shoulder. “His name is Boy,” a well-built Top Hat answered.  “And will remain so until he earns my respect.”

Lucy buttoned her lips closed as the man looked over the new recruit. His brown beard was trimmed to a fine shadow as his grey eyes pierced Lucy’s confidence.  He was older than Andrew but not yet Winston’s age from what Lucy could tell.  Probably right around her father’s age. . .

Lucy let the thought quickly pass and turned to look at her fumbling hands.

“You would do best to look me in the eye, Girl,” Kivan added, releasing her.

Biting her lip, Lucy cocked her head to the side to keep from letting her tongue fly.  But her eyes said it all.

“You have quite a fiery one, Vaan,” Kivan chuckled, snapping his fingers to his apprentice.

“I am not his apprentice,” Lucy hissed picking up her dishes to follow Sebastian.

The hall murmured to a halt.

“That’s not for you to decide, lass,” the Top Hat pointed out.

“Well, if none of you respect me, how am I to respect you?” Lucy fought back. “Perhaps, I won’t let him be my teacher until he has earned my respect.”

There was a rush of wind and within seconds Vaan had her arm bent painfully behind her back, pushing her towards the double doors. “I believe our Lady of Dawn shall be taking the dinner clean-up shift, Winston.”

No one argued as the girl yelped and rushed as quickly forward as she could. The man’s temper could handle no more.

2016 E. M. Vick

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