Happy Tuesday, All! :) :)
Here is the long-promised Nine!
Let me know what y’all think in the comments! :) Did you see the story going this way when I started it so long ago?
NOTE: This series is written to be read in order. To read the previous installments, go to The Spring and the River Page.
“Yes,” Lucy said miserably.
“Why are you crying? You were planning on leaving them soon anyway! What happened to sooner than later?”
“It wasn’t how I expected it to be,” Lucy said. Her face was stiff from crying, and her head was aching with strain of it all.
“After all this you’re going to be a coward and yield to them at the first sign of trouble?” Marianne’s scorn was clear in the wrinkle of her nose and her biting tone.
“I’m not a coward,” Lucy said sharply.
Marianne gave a deprecating laugh that made Lucy grit her teeth. They sat in silence for a few minutes while Lucy wiped her eyes again and again. After her encounter with Lucien, Lucy had dragged herself to Marianne’s house which was in a state of extreme messiness. Lucy wondered if Marianne would be pleased with a more volatile reaction to Lucien’s discovery. Marianne sighed, and Lucy snuck a tearful glance at her friend. No, they weren’t really friends. “Accomplice” seemed to more adequately describe their relationship.
Marianne was losing weight, and dark circles had become fixtures under her eyes. The River lifestyle was taking its toll on Marianne’s body, and a shiver snaked down Lucy’s spine as she wondered how long it would be before she began sporting the lank appearance.
A part of her seemed to be breaking inside the longer she stayed, but another part of her despised the idea of returning home. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, her heart teetered on the edge of a knife, and the slightest breath had the power to pitch her decision one way or the other. Marianne was starting another tirade, but Lucy wasn’t listening anymore. She stood and simply left Marianne; Marianne yelled after her but didn’t follow. With faltering steps, she made her way back to the house that she had grown up in.
The house was still and peaceful looking, and Lucy’s stomach churned. She couldn’t imagine her parents going to work in the fields after she had been away for the night. She could see them in her mind sitting anxiously, waiting for her, but then she could also Lucien standing nearby like thunderclouds darkening the day. When she stepped through the door, she called out. “Mother? Father?”
She heard chairs scraping against the wood floor and hurried steps, but she remained hesitant on the threshold. “Lucy?” she heard them say, and then her mother was there with a strained look on her face with Father standing behind her. And then, almost like in a nightmare, Lucien stepped into the room with a face like the night. They didn’t embrace her or say anything else, and the uneasy silence mounted as Lucy felt dread pooling in her stomach.
“I-” she began, but stopped. She looked from one face to another and saw the disappointment in each face, but it didn’t break her as it had the day before. No, this disappointment shoved her off the edge of the knife, and anger flared in her chest. She wasn’t hesitant or timid any longer, and she pushed past Lucien with a snarl.
“Lucy,” Father called after her.
All of her years, that deep voice had guided her, and it caused her to stop in her tracks and glance back. “Yes?” she said, surprising even herself with the sharpness of her voice.
“We know of the River. Lucien told us.”
“We can help you,” Mother said, stepping forward, her hands held out in welcome, her eyes heavy with entreaty.
The very idea that she needed help made Lucy’s head get hot, and she slashed a hand through the air. “I don’t need your help! I’m fine! I can leave the River when I please!” Even she was startled by her words, but there was no going back now. She raced up the stairs to her room and paced back and forth, trying desperately to cool down. They followed her up and stood in her doorway.
“This is my room!” she said. “Leave me alone!”
Father now wore a hard expression that made her shrink a little inside. “Lucy,” he said. His voice was no longer soft; it was living reproach. “You will not speak to your mother that way,” he said.
“You don’t control me!” Lucy yelled, suddenly crying. Her thoughts were muddled and frustrated, and she couldn’t manage to calm her angry gasping. She felt like she must be in a nightmare. Part of her longed to run into Mother’s arms and beg forgiveness, but the pull of the River was far stronger. Somehow she had slid into this, and she couldn’t escape.
“Lucy,” Father said. “If you do not reject the River of Wrong, you have no home here.”
Lucy sat down hard on the edge of her bed. She supposed she should have known that they would come down so heavily on it. Her eyes flitted from face to face; Mother was trying desperately not to cry, Lucien refused to meet her gaze, and Father was simply stern.
“Well, then,” she said, wiping her face clean of tears. She glanced around her room, trying to decide what she would take. She slid over to her chest and opened it; the worn wood was so familiar to her hands. Setting her jaw, she dug through the chest until her fingers brushed the rough fabric of her black cloak. As she pulled out the cloak, she stood. She looked pointedly past her mother’s shoulder to the stairway, and Father guided her mother away from the doorway of Lucy’s room.
“When you want help,” Father said. “We will be here.”
Lucy didn’t acknowledge him and instead plunged down the stairs. Her cloak was around her shoulders before she was out of the front door. “I love you!” she heard Mother call, but her heart only hardened as she walked and then ran away. Finally, she skidded to a stop in front of Marianne’s house. As she stepped over the threshold, she thought she could feel a sense of freedom.
“You’ve made your decision,” Marianne said, a cattish look in her hollow eyes.
“Yes,” Lucy replied. “And I’m never going back.”