Snow had fallen, but did not stick yet to the grass. It was still Fall, not Winter. The ground was too warm from the sun and the days were of average length.
Jonathan sat at his desk with Oceton in his lap and heavy coat on. He was writing a letter to Deimena. He wasn’t sure what to say, as he didn’t think that he was doing much. Her letters were full of politics and economics, deals and trades, with Chadwick adding notes about the parties he held and charity work he supported.
He heard Biscuit making noises outside, chuffing and digging her hooves into the straw.
Jonathan shifted, but Oceton was a dead weight in his lap, refusing to move. He scooped the bird up in one arm and grabbed a carrot from the kitchen, then went outside to the stable.
Biscuit had a blanket over her back to help with the chill. She took the carrot from Jonathan’s hands and then immediately dropped it.
Jonathan smiled and pet Biscuit on the side as she searched among the straw for her treat. He stood by the edge of her stall and watched flurries of snowflakes fall down. It wasn’t too uncommon for there to be the occasional snowfall this late in Autumn.
The lumberjack found snow to be a terrible reminder of his friend’s death, but the cold was reliable. Snow was familiar in the same way that the heat of the sun brought back memories of asphalt roads, tall skyscrapers, and glass reflections—meanwhile, the many moons that glowed at night shouted at him that he was in another world.
Jonathan saw someone riding down the path. Both horse and rider were familiar: Norel’s old mare with a graying coat and a tall boy with dark hair in the awkward between stage of being grown out.
Kern was wearing thick boots and a shirt that had been scorched by sparks. He likely had worked some this morning and then came over. The young man knew to come not too early, to make sure he wasn’t in the forest late, a wise choice for someone who didn’t live there. “Hello, Mr. Jonathan.”
“Hi.” Jonathan came out the stable and held the mare as Kern dismounted. “I was just about to start a late lunch.” He was taking a day off, with the cold front making it harder to work. “No emergencies?”
“No, Mister.” Kern took his bag off Norel’s horse and opened it.
Jonathan unlocked the stall and stabled the horse beside Biscuit. He knew that the two mares got along okay and with snow falling he wasn’t going to let them run around outside unobserved.
Kern held out the package. “I brought a new axe head for you. Master Norel has been having me make them for training and he told me that this one was well made.” The customs of the West dictated that bringing a present was necessary for grand events and for uninvited visitations. Farmers in the village below would bring anything from a fruit to a basket of vegetables when coming over unannounced.
“Thank you. Come inside.” Jonathan unlocked his door and held it open for his visitor. “Could you put it on the table?” He went to the kitchen for a moment. His letter had dried, so he attached it to his sleepy companion’s leg.
Oceton squawked. He ruffled his feathers and turned his head away.
“Fly back in time for food. You’re only going to Deimena.” Jonathan carried Oceton to the door of the cabin and opened it.
Oceton chirped and took off without any more prompting. He was happy that he would only have to fly a short distance today.
Jonathan closed the door quickly because of the cold. Snowflakes had already landed on his rug and melted. “Thank you again for the axe blade. I needed a new one. Have you started making sword blades?”
Kern had remained standing in the small living room. He shook his head. “I can make and design hilts first, and attach hilts to blades. Cornelia is already designing smaller blades.”
“It’s good for both of you that you’re learning.” Jonathan had been wanting an update on how Cornelia was doing. “What do you want to eat?
The two discussed food and lit a fire in the kitchen. Jonathan did not talk. He simply took things out for cooking a meal. He knew that Kern rarely came to visit and would not come unannounced without reason, so he let the silence settle and waited.
Jonathan wondered when and how he became the local therapist. And why these children seemed to trust him so much, that they went to him, the strange lumberjack in the middle of the woods.
“Everything is new,” Kern said. He sat on the stool in the kitchen. “I used to live on a farm.”
“And now you’re in a big city.”
“Yes,” Kern confirmed. “It’s…very strange to go from having the community I grew up with and my family to having absolutely no one. Going down the street used to mean visiting my neighbors and doing that here only means strange faces.”
Jonathan found that normal. “Are you scared?”
“Some.” Kern helped chop some vegetables. Usually, he was quite sure of his cuts, but today his hand faltered.
Jonathan did not mention the cutting being uneven. He simply scooped them up and added them to the skillet on the stove. “I’ve been scared too.”
“Of losing your relationships?”
“Of making new ones.” Jonathan found trusting people very easy and very hard at the same time.
Kern nodded sharply. “I feel like I should be prepared in case I have to move back home.”
Jonathan found that very pessimistic and unlike Norel. “Preparation is important, but not if it stops you from being alive.”
“Alive?” Kern repeated. He set the knife down.
Jonathan knew most people in the known continent lived with their parents and would only move out of town for work. “I had trouble moving out of my home earlier. I was fighting with my family, so I left and never came back. I heard of what they were doing because everyone would talk about it. News spreads quickly. It hurt to hear about them.”
“You were still connected with them and didn’t want to be?”
“Once an accident happened, I realized I had actually wanted to be family and didn’t have the time left. My mother was dead and my relationship with her was the worst. If she stayed alive, I’m not sure what would have happened. Maybe she never would changed.” Jonathan waved his hand to brush the thoughts away, still holding a spatula. “Either way, regrets for talking with someone or not talking with something are awful. I regretted the way I left because now that I think back I can see how I could have handled everything better. In your case, it might be more about the opportunities of getting to know others now that you are here in Alita.”
“I don’t know what to say?”
“Talk about yourself some. Ask about them. Be kind.”
“Jokes are different here. I don’t know where the line is and I don’t want to cross it by accident. People talk differently. They have different customs and phrases.” Kern paused. He sat back down. “How did you learn them?”
“I can teach you some of them.” Jonathan had the Yulrs to rely on and that had made a difference. He was simply accepted into their home and the rest of the village followed. “You can also ask Cornelia and Norel, they will be happy to explain.” He knew how moving could lead to noticing and being confused by all the strange cultural differences. Smile more, talk more and smile less, talk less—sometimes there was a mix of the two. Regions had their own nuanced rules and towns sometimes did too.
“They don’t like the empire here much.” Kern rinsed off the cutting board he used, frowning. “What if I’m too me?” He said this very quietly,
“Everyone has someone they dislike. Someone is always disliked by someone else. Improve yourself and find people that like you for the good things about you.” Jonathan flipped the vegetables in the skillet. He found it strange to see clearly how fear was shaping someone he knew, when he had similar fears that affected his own situation. However, his situation was about involuntarily becoming someone else, Roscoe, and guilt over Roscoe’s family. Could Jonathan ever be himself really, when they wanted Roscoe and he was not Roscoe?
Jonathan sighed. “Sometimes, you do need to pretend to keep yourself safe or be discrete about things you know others may not like, but there’s also times with friends or family that we have to trust them.”
“How do I know who to trust? My dad would say that strangers are just friends you don’t know yet.” Kern’s tone carried his disbelief in that adage.
“It’s hard.” Jonathan would never deny it. “Trust is a habit that’s built. You’ll have to find the right people yourself. People you think you can trust, that you get along with and know are responsible.”
Kern was quiet during the rest of the cooking. He wasn’t the sort of kid who thought out loud. He sat on the stool and thought.
Jonathan opened up the kitchen window when he heard Oceton’s call above. The bird dove through the window and sat on the counter, then shook off the melting ice.
“Oceton, stop. I’ll towel you off.” Jonathan handed over watching the skillet to Kern for a few moments and dried the phoenix with a towel. He took the letter off Oceton’s leg and put it aside to read later. He thanked Kern for taking over, but the boy simply responded in kind for Jonathan’s hospitality.
They had lunch together and Jonathan saw Kern off, with Oceton on his shoulder. The snow was still falling, but it was gentle.
Happy Halloween! I wanted to make that you guys get to see the bonus chapter since it’s something I quite like and adds more to Kern.
I’m also working on some more short stories to add, which I think are fun. I already finished a Chester POV fake dating short story.