Life’s Own Music

Author’s Note: So today I had one thought in my head: Dillon and Larina dancing in the barn. It had to be them as teenagers, before they split, and it didn’t come out quite like I planned, but it ended up okay, I think.

This is a thin interpretation of the idea of music, but I couldn’t resist the idea of the dance, and I remembered a song from childhood that fit, John Micheal Montgomery’s “Life’s a Dance.” So… Dillon and Larina. Dancing. In a barn. 🙂

dancing quote

Life’s Own Music

“I am going to look like an idiot at this wedding. I’d say Thyda hates me, but I know that’s not true. It’s just that her other bridesmaids do. Well, her maid of honor does. I swear she picked the dress that would look the worst on me—it’s the wrong color, too—just to make me look bad because Thyda was going to have me be the maid of honor until she found out I couldn’t sign the license because I’m not old enough yet,” Larina said, leaning over the side of the stall, kicking at the wood. The horses were out so she could do it without disturbing them, and she was mad enough to want to even though she knew they couldn’t afford to fix the stall if she broke it. “I’m too young to be a bridesmaid, so we have to get me something that looks appropriate for my age.”

“You will look better than her no matter what you wear,” Dillon said, not looking up from the stall he was cleaning. “Just ignore them, Larina. The girl wants this part in Thyda’s wedding because she will never get her own. At least—not one as nice as Thyda’s. She’ll have to get her guy drunk in Vegas.”

Larina giggled, almost falling over. “I cannot believe you just said that.”

He shrugged. “I don’t like her. Never have. When she came around here, she’d bother me on purpose. No, I pity any guy stupid enough to fall for her tricks, and I hope you won’t let her get to you because you are so much better than her—and prettier, too.”

“You think I’m pretty?”



He stopped, setting aside his pitchfork. “Truth is, Larina, while I… I have noticed the way you look since you got older and started… filling in places, I’m not… I’m not comfortable with it. Dad always blamed the thing with my mom on her being—she was pretty ’til she had me, then he couldn’t stand the sight of her, and all he ever wanted from her was some… warm body in his bed. He hated that she gave him a kid, and he hated me for being that kid, and I’d rather not think anyone was pretty because if that’s all he cared about and I start to think about it—”

“You’re not your father.”

“I know, but I worry about it. Now that I’m older, ever since I started thinking about girls—”

“You think about other girls?”

“No.” Annoyed, he got in her face. “I only like you, and that’s because you’re… you. You were my friend first, and I liked that. I think I would have kept that forever except… We both grew up and changed, and there’s this other part to us now. This… attraction.”

She smiled, kissing his cheek. “I love you.”

He rubbed at where she’d kissed him, getting a bit tense. “Larina, I’m busy working. I’m sweaty, gross, tired, and not in the mood to discuss Thyda’s friends.”

“Fine. Tell me the dress isn’t as hideous as I think it is, and I’ll leave you alone,” she said, stepping around the stall gate so he could get a good look at it. “Well?”

“I think if she was doing this to be mean to you, she picked the wrong dress,” he answered after a moment, and Larina blinked, confused. The color was wrong—she looked all stupid in this kind of pink—and it was all dressy and dumb and so unlike her.

“You don’t mean that.”

“Yes, I do,” he insisted, taking hold of her and pulling her close. “I think you look like something out of one of Sorina’s fairytales.”

Larina winced, trying not to cry. “She should be here for the wedding. It’s so wrong that she’s not. She was our mom. She loved this sort of thing. Thyda needs her.”

“Don’t you dare blame yourself for what happened. It was a freak accident, Larina. No one could have known what that cow would do,” Dillon said, wrapping his arms even tighter around her. She closed her eyes, letting his arms soothe her as he rocked her gently around the barn. She’d almost say they were dancing, but they weren’t. They didn’t have music.

“Don’t ever stop,” she whispered, wanting this moment to last forever, wanting to take away the sting of losing her aunt, wanting to feel safe and loved by the boy she’d spent most of her life with, the one who gave so much even after having had all that he had taken from him.

“If I don’t, I’ll ruin your dress, and Thyda will never forgive me.”

“’Course she will. She’ll forgive everyone when her head comes out of the wedding fog. It’s what she does,” Larina said. “If we ever get married, don’t let me do that. I don’t want to lose all sense because of a big nonsense fuss like this.”

“You’ll need the big nonsense fuss. Burditt won’t believe it’s real if you don’t have it.”

Larina snorted. “Yeah, right. Not with us. Everyone keeps saying we’ll run off and elope the day I turn eighteen—the only reason we’re not married now is because I’d need Burditt’s consent and he won’t give it.”

“That’s not true.”

She stopped, looking up at him. “Dillon, you do… love me, don’t you? I mean, the first time we kissed you said maybe we’d get married someday and—”

“The idea of marriage scares me,” he admitted, his voice quiet. “It’s not that I don’t… I don’t know that I could ever feel anything more for someone else than I do for you, but I don’t… My father became such a monster after he had a kid—”

“He was a monster before you were there. He had to be. Think about what he said about your mother,” Larina insisted. “No, Dillon, you won’t become him. I don’t believe that. Though… I know you’re scared you will, so we don’t have to rush into anything. Like I said, it’s not like Burditt will give permission. He’s still being dumb about it, and so we’ll have to wait at least until I’m eighteen. You can relax.”

Dillon let his head rest against hers. She tilted her head up so that she could kiss him, and he kissed her back, gentle as ever, and she let herself slid back into his arms, not caring one bit if he was dirty. He was Dillon. None of that mattered.

“We can keep dancing, though.”

“Dancing? We don’t have any music.”

“We don’t need music,” she told him, having just decided that. “We make our own.”

Home Again

Author’s Note: Today I got a late start on writing a piece for the digital care package. Having a spider turn up at lunch kind of threw off the day a bit.

I hate spiders. Really, really hate spiders.

Anyway, I was late, so this is a bit late, and I did the song post first, which could be considered spoilers, I suppose, though this piece has plenty (*sigh*) and so it’s all a big bit of mess, but it does come after yesterdays’ bit with the coffee. That’s something.

The song with this piece is “Feels Like Home” by Chantal Kreviazuk. It’s kind of easy to see why.

chicken soup small

Home Again

“Chicken soup?”

“Don’t knock it. It might be canned, but at least I can make it,” Larina said, opening one up and dumping its contents into the pan. She knew it wasn’t any kind of breakfast, but then Dillon didn’t eat breakfast most days anyway, not unless Burditt made him—since her uncle died, she didn’t think she’d seen Dillon eat in the morning, not once—and so her pathetic can opening skills would have to be enough for now. “You shouldn’t let yourself get back in the habit of not eating breakfast.”

“I don’t—you know that I have my reasons for not liking breakfast, and it’s not like I don’t eat at all. Burditt kept trying to make that assumption, but he was wrong. I do eat. I’m just never going to be a fan of cereal and not much of one for pancakes or waffles, either. The whole near cardboard taste of some of them—it reminds me of that same bad day, and I can’t do it. If the cereal hadn’t tasted like cardboard, I wouldn’t have asked him for milk, and if I hadn’t…”

Dillon shuddered, and she crossed over to his side, touching his arm. She hated this, hated seeing him in pain, still so hurt after all these years, unable to forget the trauma and even blaming himself for it because he’d done something innocent like ask for milk.

“He’s not here,” she said, keeping her voice low. She wanted it to be soothing, not jarring, not something that would set him off more. “He hasn’t touched you in over fifteen years, and he won’t start now. None of us would ever let him close, and you know that. You have Thunder who would break down his gate and come running to save you, and there’s Mettle, too, who’d be there for you, but even if the animals weren’t, there’s Kay and Jesse and Jacob and Thyda and Bonnie and maybe even Will, if we’re crazy enough to let him stay on.”

“You didn’t list yourself,” Dillon said, looking at her with that intensity that she found unsettling because it saw all the way through her, the way he did more often than she wanted to think about, more often than she thought he should. “You’re still planning on leaving again, aren’t you?”

She let out a breath. “I don’t know what I’m doing, honestly. I can’t say that I feel right staying. This… I still don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t know how to fix that. I don’t know where I went wrong in all of this, but somewhere in it all, I got lost, and I can’t find any kind of… direction.”

He opened his mouth, shut it, and turned away. Leaning over the sink, he shook his head. “I never figured on you ever leaving this place for good. Briarwood was your home, and I still don’t see how anyone believed it wasn’t. Yes, you went to college, and yes, you had other friends to spend time with and other places to be, but you didn’t ever forget where you came from. This is it. This has always been home. I know when we fought I said it wasn’t, but as soon as I was back, I knew… it wasn’t Briarwood you were rejecting. It was me, and it hurt, but I was wrong to say that you didn’t want to come back. I knew you did. You just… didn’t want to be there with me.”

She swallowed. That was hard to hear, harder too accept, but if she denied it—that would create another mess she wasn’t ready to deal with. She put her hand over his. “Thyda told me about your idea of making Briarwood into a non-profit organization.”

“I suppose you hate it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t, actually. It’s not that bad an idea, though I think it’s not really Briarwood. Thyda said we’d have to look into doing fundraising and I remember how hard that was in school, how stupid and scammy it felt when we brought home those catalogs—I suppose you don’t know that feeling, but I doubt you’d want to be the one that was doing much of it, and I know I’d hate it. I wouldn’t want to feel like… like we needed handouts to survive.”

Dillon grimaced. She knew he hated charity even more than she did, hated pity because he got it too much after what he’d suffered at the hands of his father. “That’s—well, you’re right. We’d all hate it. It just… It was the only way I could think of that would keep my ex-wife from any part of Briarwood. I won’t let Meghan get to it. I won’t let her wreck this place. She’s done enough damage. She can’t take this place, not one piece of it.”

“And she won’t,” Larina agreed. She drew in a breath and let it out. “I have a counter offer, Dillon. I don’t know how easy this will be, and I know right now I can’t afford anything because I’ve got debts to pay off and I messed things up between us good again thinking I was doing the right thing, but I have to throw it out, have to say it at least once, have to—”

“Spit it out already,” he said, and she looked down to find his hand on her arm this time. She could barely think at the moment, nervous as she was, but she nodded, swallowing and forcing the words out.


He frowned. “What?”

She licked her lips, trying to make herself coherent. “Yes, partners. I want to buy half of Briarwood from you. I’d have to do it with my services as a vet first because as I said, I don’t have any money and I’ve got loans to pay off from school, but if you were willing to work out an arrangement with me, I’d buy in and get half, and it would be…”

“It would be what, Larina?”

“Home again,” she whispered, feeling stupid. She didn’t know why it felt like she needed to own it to belong here, but she needed something to hold onto, something to keep her from floundering the way she was, and she knew if she had half of Briarwood, there was no way that Meghan could get hold of it. This was the right solution.

Wasn’t it?

“You’re such an idiot,” Dillon said, and she frowned again, not liking his ability to say that to her now when he never would have dared before, not him, not that sweetheart of a boy. That must have been Meghan’s doing—or was it Larina’s? “You don’t have to buy it for it to be home.”

“Yes, I do,” she said, looking up at him, and then he was a blur because of her unshed tears. She pursed her lips, trying not to let them fall because she refused to be an idiot.

“No,” he insisted. “You don’t.”

And his arms were around her, and she was crying, couldn’t stop it, but this was the first time since she came back, first time since Burditt died and that awful will was read that she felt safe again, grounded and whole—home.

“This isn’t right. I was supposed to be making things up to you, not getting comfort from you.”

“You shouldn’t have to buy your way back home,” Dillon said, stepping back and lifting her chin so she’d look at him. “I mean that. I don’t know why this got so complicated—the will, I guess, but it shouldn’t be because I would never force you from your home. You know that.”

She nodded. “I do.”

“So you don’t have to buy in.”

She sniffled, trying to calm herself. “And if I want to?”

“We’ll discuss that later. First we have to deal with the soup you just burned.”

Coffee and Willpower

Author’s Note: So I suppose it’s not quite right/fair to use coffee to fill in a comfort food, but it is a comfort food for me, and the idea of it went well with a favorite song as well as led me into something that could help with the part where I currently am in Dillon and Larina’s story instead of just being a random moment from their past.

So I used coffee. I also used Landon Pigg’s “Falling in Love in a Coffee Shop,” even though the coffee shop only gets mentioned. It still works.

coffee important meal of day

Coffee and Willpower

“I think I’ll start with a peace offering.”

Dillon tensed, not wanting to look behind him. “Larina, we don’t have anything to—”

“Don’t say we don’t have anything to discuss, because we do,” she interrupted, and then she stepped around the gate, forcing herself in between him and the wall of Benedict’s stall. “I know you probably don’t want anything from me, not after how badly my last gift backfired, but this… this is a lot bigger than one misunderstanding, and we have to start somewhere, right?”

“Exactly how much did you and your sister have to drink?”

“That is so not important, and I’m not drunk now. I might have a slight headache and possible hangover, but I’m not under any kind of influence at the moment. I came back early so that we could talk before the others got here. And we do need to talk.”

Dillon shook his head. “I don’t know that we do. I think maybe we were wrong to think we could settle this mess without lawyers. Go get one, sue for it, and have done. I’m not—I can’t do this with you. I think the worst part of it was thinking that we could work it out this time.”

She shook her head, placing a hand on his arm. “No, it wasn’t. It was that we let the past get in the way again. We don’t need lawyers. We want them because this hurts and it is so many old wounds and scars and things we don’t want to face, but it’s not impossible to surmount. It’s us, Dillon. How much have we already overcome to be where we are? You came back from a horror no child should have to face, and while I was never in that position, I did screw a lot of things up and yet somehow managed to muddle through somehow.”

He swallowed. She made it sound easy, but it wasn’t. “We fell into old patterns again for a bit, and it—it doesn’t work like that anymore. We aren’t those kids we used to be. Hell, we’re not even friends.”

“Not even if I got you coffee?”

He stared at her for a moment, and finally, he gave in and laughed because her expression and the moment didn’t allow for much else. She slipped out under his arm and came back with a cup. He gave her a look, but she smiled that same old smile of hers, the one so sincere it was dangerous, and he found himself taking the cup from her.

“That looks like Thunder.”

“It is. I printed the picture off Thyda’s computer, put it in a personalizable mug, and there you have it—a present not even my last screw up could make you refuse. Or at least that’s what I was hoping.”

Dillon looked at her, hesitating, and then he sighed, silently cursing himself for the weakness he would always have to her. If she’d stayed away, maybe he could have found a way to break that pattern, or maybe he could just have fooled himself because she was never there, but she was here. He couldn’t avoid her, and he would never win against her.

“Coffee is just the beginning of the truce, though,” she said, and he frowned. “Well, you know, I would offer to make breakfast, but I can’t cook, so I can’t offer that, but I know how much you like coffee, and so… I started there and figured the rest would come with maybe cleaning out the back barn or something like that.”

“Made Will do that yesterday.”

“Like it doesn’t need it every day.” Larina met his gaze and held it. “Please, Dillon. At least hear me out. You know it doesn’t work if you don’t let me at least say I’m sorry.”

He didn’t know how to handle her begging. He was about to cave, and he knew it. That expression, the tone of her voice, it took him back to other times, to other moments, and he was starting to think he’d ruin everything, throw his willpower away, and do far more than forgive her.

“Please,” Larina said, tugging on his shirt. “I know you have a lot to do today with the extra horses, and I’ve got to go to school in a few minutes, but you never eat breakfast with us anymore—not that I blame you; the environment in there is almost intolerable these days—so if you drive me in to town, we both get breakfast and we get a few more minutes together.”

Dillon shook his head. “If you’re so aware that we’re busy here, you know that I can’t leave. I have too much to do to go have a big breakfast—and I don’t need one.”

“Coffee, then? We could go to that little shop and—”

He kissed her, cutting off her words, knowing he’d give in if he let her keep talking, and while he’d never been very good at standing up to her, he’d found he was very good at distracting her like this.

“—get coffee—”

Another kiss and she was holding onto his shirt for a different reason, and when he stopped she moaned, her eyes mostly shut, and he had to smile at the sight because there were few things that left Larina Payne speechless.

“You were saying?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. Do that again.”

“You’re going to miss your bus.”

“One more,” she said, and he rolled his eyes even as he did as she asked, always so weak to her. She pulled back with a smile. “You’re right. Who needs coffee when we have that?”

He shook his head, laughing as he pushed her out of the barn and toward her bus stop.

Dillon grimaced, wishing his mind hadn’t gone there. She was watching him, and he knew there was some mercy in her inability to know which memory had just replayed in his head, even if she did know him well enough to know that one had been in his head. He swallowed, shaking his head and shaking it off, unwilling to think about it anymore.

“Fine. We can talk.”

All the White Horses

Author’s Note: I wanted to use the song I chose for this piece a while now, but I didn’t really have an appropriate pair of father and daughter. I still thought of it when I worked on things for Dillon and Larina, and part of the lyrics fit with the relationship that they share. She always saw more in him than he saw in himself, and that part of the song seemed to fit.

So did everything with Burditt, as he was the father figure for them both, and he really was the one to show everyone how much they matter, how much he loved them and wanted them to love themselves.

I took scarf as the prompt/item from the digital package. The song and this concept could be extended into a longer arc or fic, and I kind of thought prefacing it with something from the present, and maybe I will if I work it into the novel. I’ll see.

It does follow Keeping Warm, as Dillon is still recovering in this one, but I liked the idea of connecting it a little. The main influence, though, has got to be Tori Amos’ “Winter.”


All the White Horses

“I thought you said hot cereal was fine as long as there was no milk in it,” Thyda said, peering over into Dillon’s bowl. Larina almost swatted her away. He didn’t need a lecture, and he was still kind of sick, so Thyda had to leave him alone.

“Is that too much?” Sorina asked Dillon, and he looked up at her, eyes full of guilt for pushing around his cereal instead of eating it. Larina wouldn’t have minded so much if he didn’t look like he was afraid of being punished for it, too. “Sweetheart, you’re still getting better. You don’t have to eat it all if it’s too much for you.”

He nodded, his head still low, and Larina reached over to take his hand just as the back door opened. Dillon jumped, and Burditt winced, but then a wide smile overtook his face, his excitement carrying him over to Sorina. “They’re back.”

“The road graders?”

“No,” he said, laughing. “Why would I care about that? We’ve got us a cozy home here where we all can stay nice and warm, and it’s done all right in getting our boy back to good health again, so we’re fine all cuddled up good here.”

Dillon frowned a bit, coughing as he reached for his cocoa. Larina bit her lip, hoping he wasn’t getting sick again. He was supposed to be better, not worse. Burditt gave him a look, a bit concerned, but that faded when he looked at Sorina. Larina didn’t think anyone could love someone as much as Burditt loved her.

“The horses, Briar Rose. They’re back.”

She smiled, reaching over to turn off the stove. “Everyone bundle up nice and warm. We’re going outside.”

“Why?” Thyda asked. She looked over at Dillon. “He shouldn’t—and it’s cold. I know that we have to do chores, and the animals need care, but we’re not done with breakfast yet—”

“This is something you won’t want to miss,” Burditt said, reaching over to grab coats off the rack and pass them around. “We’ll bundle you up extra warm, just in case, but I want you to see this, too. Come on, little bit. I would have thought you’d be jumping at the chance.”

She grinned back at him, pulling on her own coat and zipping it up. She took out her mittens and then shoved them back in her pocket when she saw that Dillon wasn’t moving. He drew his legs up against his chest and coughed again.

“Maybe you should go without me.”

“I’ll carry you if I need to,” Burditt told him. “I don’t want any of you to miss this. I don’t know when we’ll see it again—it’s been years since Sorina and I saw them the last time, and you won’t want to miss it. I promise. Come on.”

Larina held up Dillon’s coat. “I’ll help you.”

“Don’t need,” Dillon coughed, “help.”

He pulled on the coat and buttoned it up, and Burditt took the ugly wool hat and covered Dillon’s head with it, handing him an oversized pair of mittens, too. The ones they found when Sorina dug out an old coat of Burditt’s for Dillon had unraveled, and so they didn’t have any that fit Dillon right—he wouldn’t wear hers or Thyda’s because they were pink—but Larina figured he could curl his hands inside the big ones and be plenty warm. She went to the rack and took down Burditt’s scarf, winding it around Dillon’s neck until she could hardly see his face.

“Hey,” he protested, trying to push the scarf away. “I’ll trip over this thing. It’s too big.”

“If it had more colors, I’d be reminded of a television show,” Burditt said with a slight smile. “Don’t worry. We’ll manage. Everyone ready?”

Larina nodded, and Burditt grinned. “Let’s go see them, then. Careful now so as not to spook them, but come out into the yard.”

She followed him out the door, almost falling into the drift right beside it—they needed to shovel a wider path again—and she stopped when she saw what Burditt meant by them. Horses. Dozens of them. A whole wild herd, more than half of them as white as the snow surrounding them.


“When I first saw them, I knew I wanted to raise horses here,” Sorina said, taking Thyda’s hand and smiling at the sight even as her breath fogged in front of her. “I wanted something just as wonderful and majestic.”

“They’re beautiful,” Thyda whispered. “Almost like a dream.”

Larina nodded, reaching for Dillon’s hand, but he wasn’t next to her. She frowned, turning around and hoping he wasn’t lost in the snow, and her mouth dropped open when she saw one of the horses had come up on the other side of them, sniffing at Dillon’s hat like it wanted to eat it. He laughed, and the others started to stare as well, watching him pull off his mitten and offer his hand to the horse, who sniffed it and licked at his palm.

“I guess we got two miracles this morning,” Burditt said. Sorina nodded, leaning against him and pulling Thyda with her as they all watched. Larina put her hand in her pocket, smiling herself when she found the oats in there.

She walked over to Dillon, trying not to spook his new friend, but she did. He looked back at her with a frown, and she held out the oats, hoping he could lure that beautiful mare back to them. He took the oats. The mare snorted, and he waited.

After a few moments, the horse stepped closer, nudging his hand and eating all of the oats in it. Larina wished she had more, but when she checked her pockets, the mare spooked for good, running away from them and starting the rest of the herd off as well.

She sighed. Burditt put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, little bit. They stayed longer this time than they ever had before.”

“But I scared them away. All of them.” Larina sighed. “Dillon was able to feed one. That’s special. It was wonderful. I just frightened them.”

“No,” Burditt said. “Dillon has a gift with animals, he does, but you do, too, and you’re all very special, wonderful children. Don’t forget that he wouldn’t have been able to feed the horse if you hadn’t carried the oats with you in your pocket.”

“Little matched pair you two are,” Thyda said, snorting. Sorina shook her head, leaning down to touch her face.

“Don’t think we don’t need you just because those two are good with animals. All us silly dreamers need someone around us whose practical, and that, my dear girl, is you,” Sorina told her. “We love all of you for who you are, and you’re all special to us.”

Dillon dropped the mitten he was trying to put back on. “You don’t love me. No one does. No one could. It…”

“That’s what your father said. He was lying,” Burditt insisted, and Larina thought Dillon was going to cry. He was already coughing again, loud and almost as bad as he had been when he first got sick. Burditt reached for him, but Dillon whimpered and ducked away.

“You might be Larina’s friend, but that doesn’t mean none of the rest of us care about you,” Thyda said, shaking her head as she left Sorina’s side to go to him. “Everyone loves you, Dillon. I don’t know why you don’t see it.”

He shuddered, and Larina wrapped her arms around him, holding on tight as he did. She knew it would take a long time for him to believe that they loved him, but she’d prove it. She’d prove it every day. That was what they saw in him, so much that was sweet and kind and good and special, and he’d know it someday. They’d show him that.

Just like Burditt had showed her and Thyda already.

Keeping Warm

Author’s Note: So I am starting out a new test version of the digital care package. I’m going to do a set that’s all for Dillon and Larina’s story, since I have been trying to get past where I keep ending up blocked and finish their saga. I have a lot of stuff from their past, and it felt right to go there with this one, though I admit it made it difficult to find a song that went with it.

In the end, I cheated a bit and used one I used before, but I think it still fits if I look at the overall arc of the friendship Dillon and Larina share, so… I’m going with “Keep Warm” by Ingrid Michaelson. I chose a soft blanket as the prompt/item in the care package.

I know this isn’t necessarily the happiest of little fics, but I couldn’t resist this image, either.


Keeping Warm

“He started coughing at breakfast,” Sorina said, shaking her head. “By this afternoon, he was hacking. That poor boy. I’ve never seen anyone get sick quite so fast.”

Burditt grunted, going to the window and looking out at the night. It wasn’t as dark as it should have been, not when the snow was making the ground outside bright, but Larina thought he figured it was still too dark. “Sometimes I think Morely doesn’t have the sense God gave a mule. Letting that boy run around at all hours without proper clothes in this weather all because he’s too scatterbrained to remember that a little kid needs care—”

“Burditt,” Sorina said, her word a warning. Larina knew that tone. That was the one she used whenever he was talking about something he shouldn’t in front of her or her sister. Or Dillon. This time it was both of them, though she didn’t know how much Dillon could hear when he was coughing like that and shuddering—his eyes hadn’t opened in hours.

She reached over to pull the blanket up over him again. “How sick is Dillon?”

Sorina sighed, touching her hand to Dillon’s head with a grimace. “If the weather were better, I think I’d take him into the doctor. Right now, though…”

“I don’t think even the truck will make it to the end of the driveway. I haven’t hooked up the snowplow yet, but I will,” Burditt said, folding his arms over his chest. “First thing in the morning, if his fever hasn’t broken, we’ll take him in to the hospital. Right now, we’re just going to have to wait.”

Larina bit her lip, looking back at her aunt and uncle. She was afraid they were going to make her go back to her own room—it was late—but she wanted to stay here until she was sure Dillon was going to get better.

“Come on, Larina. Time you were in bed.”

She pushed the hand off her shoulder. “Dillon is so sick, though. Please—don’t make me leave him when he’s like this. He’s—I don’t think he should be alone while he’s so sick.”

“You can’t watch over him all the time.”

“Yes, I can,” Larina insisted stubbornly, knowing that she always would. She’d always try, at least. “And tonight, I’m staying here with him. Someone should be there. When he was with his dad and his dad was hurting him and he was in pain or sick, he had to be alone. He’s not alone here. We promised him that. I’m going to stay.”

Burditt put a hand on Sorina’s back. “Little bit’s right. We did promise him he’d be safe and looked after here.”

“He’s not alone when Moxie’s with him.”

“That’s not the same,” Burditt and Larina objected at the same time. He laughed, and Sorina rolled her eyes. “You can’t fight both of us, and you know you have a soft spot for him, too.”

“It’s hard not to,” Sorina said, brushing back some of Dillon’s hair. “He’s such a sweet little boy, and I don’t—I don’t know how anyone could have done what his father did to him because hurts just seeing him like this—and I know no one did it, it was an accident, and he’ll get better, but this poor thing. First his father, now this…”

“He’s going to get better. And he’s here where he’s safe,” Burditt reminded her. “We’ll take good care of him no matter how long he’s sick.”

Larina nodded, adjusting Dillon’s blanket before crawling up next to him and taking his hand even as he coughed. He didn’t open his eyes, wasn’t aware of what she’d done, but she didn’t care. She was going to be right here when he woke up feeling better. She wasn’t leaving his side.

First Impressions and Hope

Author’s Note: So I decided to add some variants into the themes for the snippets. Sometimes my mood gets in the way of finding or writing something for the day’s themes, and while it really shouldn’t be that hard to come up with a piece in all my completed but unpublished or incomplete stories, it has been.

I need to come up with the full list of them, but I’ve found one, officially, that I’m going to use now. I consider this a Monday Meeting, as it is when Dillon first met Larina.

First Impressions and Hope

“It was my turn to name the horse, you know.”

Dillon looked up from Hope’s mane, frowning as he did. He didn’t know why the girl scared him. She wasn’t bigger than him or older, and while he’d never been around other kids much, none of them had hurt him, not like his father had. She was just there, all sudden like, and that spooked him.

He didn’t like being so easily spooked. It was better to know that his father was coming, but it hadn’t changed anything if he knew or not. He shook his head, tightening his grip on the brush in his hand. “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” she countered, and he wished he knew how to ride because he’d jump on Hope’s back and go far away from this place, far away from her—from all of them. They scared him, and he didn’t like being scared. The girl looked at him again and shrugged. “I’m Larina. Burditt calls me ‘little bit,’ but that doesn’t mean that you can.”

“Wouldn’t call you anything,” he said, and then he winced. He didn’t want to provoke her. He would never have dared say that to his father. He wouldn’t have said it to anyone a few weeks ago. No, he wouldn’t have said anything. It was better not to speak.

She came over to his side, not shy, not even a little. He didn’t think anything scared her, and he could almost hate her for that. He didn’t like being afraid, but he was always afraid.

“They said that you got to name the horse because you needed hope.”

“I didn’t name her. Morely did.” Dillon shrugged, though the memories trying to replay in his head made him gag. “He did say that I needed hope, though, so that’s what they named her.”

Larina reached up to touch the horse’s head, and Hope met her hand, nudging her to do more than just pet her. Dillon bit his lip. He’d thought the horse liked him, but she seemed to like Larina better. He tried to give her the brush. She shook her head, leaning her head against the horse. “I like listening to their heartbeats.”

He frowned, but she took his hand and pulled him over to Hope’s side. She waited until he nodded, having heard the rhythm of the horse’s heartbeat and felt it under his fingers. “I like that sound. It reminds me that I’m not alone.”

He shook his head. He hated knowing that his father was near him. He didn’t like the smell of his breath or the sound of it. “Sometimes it’s better to be alone. Other people can’t hurt you if you’re alone.”

She studied him with a frown. “You must have known the wrong sort of people before because you shouldn’t have to be scared to be around the rest of us.”

He didn’t want to be, but he didn’t know how not to be afraid. He had spent too long with his father, and he watched all of them, thinking they’d become just like him if he stopped watching for even a moment. That would be when his father would attack.

“We’re not that bad. Not even me, and I’m supposedly a troublemaker.”

Dillon gagged. “You shouldn’t call yourself that. He’d hurt you if you were. He didn’t want little kids that caused trouble around him.”

She lifted her head from the horse. “Who is he?”

“My father.”

“Oh.” She took his hand from the horse and wrapped her fingers around it. “You don’t have to be scared anymore. I don’t know your father, but I know mine’s gone, and Burditt… Well, he’s like a dad, and he’s not going to hurt you. Ever. That’s not who he is. He won’t let you be hurt.”

Dillon looked at her fingers in his. He wanted to believe that more than he thought he should. That kind of thing was how he ended up hurt the most, trying to hope and trying to trust. Any time his father had seemed good, like he could be decent, he’d rip all of that away. “How do you know that you can trust him?”

“Hope,” she answered, laughing when he frowned at her. She smiled back. “You have to have some, and they gave that to you, didn’t they?”

He looked at the horse. “She isn’t mine.”

Larina shook her head. “She doesn’t have to belong to you. It’s not even about her. Animals know things about people. If an animal can trust someone, it usually means you can, too. Hope trusts Burditt. Hope also trusts you.”

Dillon glanced toward the horse. “And she trusts you.”

“Maybe you can, too,” Larina said, giving his hand a squeeze, and he swallowed, refusing to cry this time. He had already cried too much.

Like the Wind

Author’s Note: So while I did a piece for “She’s Like the Wind” for Vred and Malina, I couldn’t help thinking that I should be doing one for Enadar. I suppose it’s cheating with Felise’s ability, but it made sense, and the opening paragraph kept bugging me.

So I used these lyrics:

She’s like the wind through my tree

and probably these:

She’s out of my league
Just a fool to believe
I have anything she needs

And then let Enadar talk, and this is what came out. Oops?

Like the Wind

“I think I understand now,” Enadar said, kicking at the rocks. He put his hands in his coat pockets, shaking his head. “It’s not just that she can control wind currents. She is the wind.”

Alik lifted his head. He could hear something in his brother’s voice, something that needed to be addressed, but he did not know how to deal with it. His own mind was far from the concerns of his younger brother, and they always had been. Alik didn’t understand the way Enadar’s mind worked. It wasn’t that he didn’t know Enadar was smart and mostly logical. It was that his brother acted far more on his emotions than Alik had ever done.


Enadar gave him a dark look. “Come on. You know who I mean.”

“Felise,” Alik said, rubbing his forehead. “Enadar, I don’t—”

“You’re the storyteller. You should get symbolism.”

Alik snorted. “Not everyone puts deeper meanings in their stories. I told you the ones I did as a distraction. I didn’t have time to weave allegory into them. Symbolism wasn’t my objective.”

Enadar rolled his eyes. “Think about it, Alik. She’s the wind. She’s the thing you want most that when you think it’s within your reach… that’s when it slips through your fingers. Just a breeze in the tree. That’s all you ever have her for, that moment when the wind touches you… and then it’s gone.”

Alik shook his head. “You are overreacting.”

“Am I? The moment I think I understand her, that we’re getting along, that I think I feel… something and that there’s this infinitesimal chance that she does, too, then… Then everything shifts. Something gets said or done, and we’re as distant as two strangers again.”

Alik let out a breath. “Why do people have wind chimes?”

“Um… for the sound? The song. The one the wind plays when it passes through.”

“Does it sound the same every time you hear it?”


“Does that mean that you never hear the chimes again?”

“No.” Enadar frowned. He folded his arms over his chest, and Alik could see him thinking it through. “You’re saying that… that even when the song changes, when the wind circles back, the chimes… still have the wind when it does? That even if the song changes—what, take what you can get? Is that it?”

“You have to listen to the songs to hear the differences between them. You have to accept that the beauty of the song is not in holding it in one place but in appreciating it for what it is,” Alik said. He studied his brother for a moment. “Stop trying to see her on your terms. See her on her own.”

“You’re right,” Enadar told him, and Alik started to frown. “You suck at symbolism.”

Comfort over Broken Glass

Author’s Note: So my morning started out with a cupboard in our house coming off the wall and shattering all the dishes in it, some of which we’d been collecting for years.

It was not a great start to the day. I didn’t think I’d have any kind of Tuesday truffle in me, but it actually got me to write this.

Comfort over Broken Glass

“I hate being the mirror.”

“I think anyone would have guessed that,” Alik said, coming up to his sister and looking at the broken glass scattered across the floor. A mirror that large breaking should have drawn the whole house into her room, but this place was ornate enough to have sound dampening that kept the crash from alerting everyone.

“You say my ability is better than yours, than Enadar’s, but it’s not. I’m just a copy. A reflection. I’m not even—”

“Don’t say that,” he interrupted, stepping over the glass to reach her, grimacing when he heard it crack under his feet. She would not like the symbolism of that act. He put his hands on her cheeks, knowing he’d have to move them soon because he did not want to force her to mirror him for immunity to his energy. “You have never been a copy of anyone, Malina. Yes, you are a lot like Mom, but so is Enadar. You just take on more of it because you have her role and her features, but that has never meant that we saw you as just a replacement for her.”

Malina closed her eyes, trying not to let the tears out. “I find myself acting like her on purpose. We might—well, Enadar might—jokingly call you ‘Dad,’ but you don’t act like him. I act like her.”

“You act like calm,” he disagreed, and she blinked, frowning at him. He lowered his hands, not wanting to hurt her. “You say I am safety, but you have always been calm.”

She continued to frown. “I don’t understand.”

“You have always calmed the storm,” he said. He saw her confusion. He swallowed and forced himself to add, “the one in me.”

“I do?” She shook her head. “I don’t think I do. You’re always so… tense, so hard to reach.”

“With an exploitable weakness to you.”

She half-smiled, wiping away tears. “It’s not a weakness. You do know it’s not, don’t you?”

“I need you more than I like to admit.”

“And I love you,” she said, throwing herself at him and clinging to him. He shook his head—why was it she always manage to break things when she didn’t have shoes on? He lifted her up, trying to keep her from touching down on the glass again.

She lifted her head from his chest and looked down at the floor with a grimace. “I should clean that up. I didn’t even think. I was just so sick of the reflection…”

“You shouldn’t be. You’re beautiful,” he told her, and she clung tighter to him. He shifted her around to his back. “I’ll help you find a broom.”

She put her head down on his back, letting out a contented sigh. “I should be too old for this. Are you sure I’m not too heavy?”

“Wouldn’t carry you if you were.” He stopped at the door, pushing it open, and he looked up to see Vred in the hallway. The tracker took them in with a frown.

“Don’t ask,” Alik said, not wanting to explain. Then he grimaced. “We will need a broom, though.”

A Look in the Mirror

Author’s Note: So today I went for a different story than Larina and Dillon’s, since I’ve been meaning to use this song for something for a while. This time I wanted to do Vred and Malina, but it wasn’t quite what I hoped.

Tried to use these lyrics as the basis:

Can’t look in her eyes
She’s out of my league
Just a fool to believe
I have anything she needs
She’s like the wind

I look in the mirror and all I see
Is a young old man with only a dream
Am I just fooling myself
That she’ll stop the pain
Living without her
I’d go insane

~Patrick Swayze, “She’s Like the Wind”

I have more lyrics from the song that I’d like to use, and I’d like to do better with them, but I have this.

A Look in the Mirror

Vred went into the bathroom, to the sink first before anything else. He washed his hands in the cool water, letting it run longer than he knew was necessary for hygiene, not ready to shut it off. Since joining the others, when he wanted to be alone, he went outside, and he could be there now instead of letting the water run over his hands.

He shut it off, glancing at the mirror. His resemblance to his uncle seemed stronger than usual, though he knew that it hadn’t changed. It felt sharper after the past few days. Everything did. Illusions had been shattered and his family had become more fractured than before.

He turned away, not wanting to see himself in the mirror any longer. He already knew his own face, and there was little point in studying it to begin with. He opened the door, and his senses tangled with those of another.

He was face-to-face with another mirror, this one of flesh and blood and ability.

Malina stepped back, putting enough distance between them to close herself off to his ability. She forced a slight smile. “I was just coming to see if you were hungry. Lisea made dinner again.”

“You already know the answer to that,” he reminded her, knowing she would have gotten that even with how briefly she’d mirrored him.

She shrugged ever so slightly. “You know I prefer to ask. That’s how you really know a person.”

He nodded, acknowledging her position on that. It had not changed. He waited for her to leave, but she did not, even knowing as she did that he was not hungry.


He frowned. “What?”

“You could ask.”

“Ask what?”

Her expression betrayed her disappointment, but she swallowed it down and spoke anyway. “Whatever you wanted to know.”

Then she did walk away.

What Brings You Home

Author’s Note: So today I sat down to edit the scene where Larina came home from overseas. Originally, I wrote a scene that skipped over most of her journey home, and I felt that it could be done better. I added in more of Larina’s backstory to it, but it was clear even a couple paragraphs into the rewrite that I needed to finish the edit I had started on the opening scene, too, to make the travel scene make sense.

What Brings You Home

Oceans apart, day after day, and I slowly go insane, the line from an older song came to Larina’s mind as she blew her bangs out of her eyes for the third time that morning, shaking her head as she did. She wasn’t insane—she was free. She knew that was wrong. She should miss her home, should miss her family. They’d always been so close, even when loss tried to destroy them, and she was turning her back on that.

She wasn’t homesick or lonely. She should be, but she wasn’t. She kept thinking that this was her last summer, her last bit of freedom, and when she was done here, she’d have to go back to the real world. The vacation was almost over, and it would soon be time to go home and start repaying everything, including her student loans.

She only had a few weeks left to pretend that she was still on top of the world, and she’d come here with the intention of doing exactly that—while doing what she loved, doing what got her in this mess in the first place.

She reached up behind her and stroked the horse’s nose, shaking her head. She shouldn’t say it like that—this was what she wanted. She’d chosen school, chosen her degree, and she was using it. She shouldn’t be ashamed of that. She’d made the right choice. She didn’t need to be at home, with all those eyes on her telling her that she’d made the wrong one.

“You don’t think I made the wrong choice, do you?” Larina asked, turning back to face Knight. He blew out a breath onto her neck, and she smiled at him, knowing how far he had come in the last few days, making the kind of progress she wouldn’t have expected and someone less cynical would call a miracle.

She was a vet, and because she could combine that knowledge with her aunt’s natural therapies, after she diagnosed the horse’s physical problem and begun to help him with that, she’d also worked beyond it, going deeper, to the emotional side of it. That was what he’d needed most, since the trauma had created the larger part of this beautiful gelding’s issues.

Now he was as free as she was. Freer, even, she couldn’t help thinking.

“Larina, that was amazing. I never thought you’d be able to reach him, not after all he’s been through,” her new friend—client, really the other woman was a client—said, nodding in approval. Larina tried not to grimace. Though Ericka owned the most beautiful land and some of the finest horses Larina had ever had the pleasure to know, to touch, and to ride, she was yet another owner that did not get close to the horses, who saw them more as a part of her business than a part of her family.

Knight deserved more, though. To Larina, he was truly special. She rubbed his nose again, leaning her cheek against his, savoring the moment. Knight had given her his trust, and that feeling was unlike any other in the world. To know that this horse, this traumatized and wounded creature, managed to stay loving, to be generous, and that he had shared that horse had given her this gift—it was unbelievable, and she knew that she didn’t deserve it. “He has come a very long way, haven’t you, boy?”

“He has,” Ericka agreed. “I came out to tell you the telephone is for you.”

“I’m sorry, buddy. We’ll have plenty of time for more later,” she told Knight, keeping her thoughts about Ericka walking out to tell her in person to herself, even though normally she would have confided in the horse. “I’m still here for at least another week. Maybe more. I’ve got the whole summer ahead of me.”

She passed the reins over to Ericka, who blinked like she might not know what to do with him. “You might want to hurry. That could be another horse that needs your help.”

“Yeah, it probably is,” Larina agreed, uncertain if she saw that as a relief or not. She jogged up to the house, still a bit worried about leaving Knight with Ericka, but she’d work with him later, make sure nothing went wrong. That was all she could do. He was not her horse. They never were.

She shook her head as picked up the phone, pressing the button for the extension. “This is Larina.”

“Larina, thank goodness,” Thyda’s voice sounded wrong. Larina frowned. That wasn’t just the overseas connection. Calls were clearer these days, and Ericka wouldn’t allow herself not to have a good phone line for her business. Her sister would have been busy—her hands full with her accounting business and the kid—but she was usually also happy, even in the middle of that chaos. “It has been a nightmare trying to get a hold of you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m always out in the field by myself, and I never did find a good plan for international calls before I left. Not that I’ll need it soon because I’ll be back and besides that there are phones—”

“It would have helped if you’d left the number where we could reach you in the first place,” Thyda said, clearly irritated. “First, I had to find three of your friends, and one of them only just returned my calls today. Today I get to learn that you are in a completely different country! I’m sure it’s convenient for you to run from one country to another without thinking about it, but there are times when people need to get in touch with you. You know better. You know this is unacceptable.”

“And I’m not a child, Thyda,” Larina almost snapped. She didn’t understand. They had almost settled this the last time they argued, and while Thyda had not liked it, her sister had agreed that Larina got this one last summer of freedom before settling in as Briarwood’s permanent vet. “What is the matter this time? Do I have to apologize a dozen times now? I am sorry I went to Vienna without speaking to you about it, but it was an emergency at the time. I dealt with the emergency, but things were still complicated, and letting everyone know where I was—it just slipped my mind.”

Thyda took a deep breath. “I don’t even have time to go into how irresponsible you were, Larina. You need to come home—come back, I mean. You have to…. It’s Dad. I mean—it’s Burditt.”

“I don’t understand,” Larina began, confused. She had talked to Burditt last week, before she came to Vienna. He was fine, wasn’t he? “What… What’s wrong?”

“Dad’s—Burditt’s—He’s… He had a heart attack. He’s gone.”

Larina felt the blood rush to her head, making her dizzy. She couldn’t hardly think, and she swore that her ears were ringing. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—believe this. Not Burditt. Yes, they had lost their parents, had lost Sorina in a sudden accident that still didn’t seem real, but through all of it, their uncle had been there. He had been their rock and stability and got them all through it. He had been the one that made them into a family, that kept them as a family. His support and care and understanding had made her life bearable, had drawn everyone to him and turned Briarwood into a refuge for everyone, not just his nieces. They had all needed his help so many times over the years, had relied on him. No, he couldn’t be gone.

“I’m sorry.” Her sister’s voice had gentled. “I know this is hard to accept. It wasn’t easy for me, either.”

“Wh—” Larina cleared her throat. “When? What happened?”

“It was four days ago. He collapsed in the back barn, and he was gone before anyone knew what happened,” Thyda explained. “It was quick. He didn’t suffer.”

“That’s—that’s… a relief,” Larina managed to say, her throat thick. She couldn’t quite breathe. She wouldn’t have wanted him to linger on, suffering through an illness, but still, this could not be real. “I’ll get a plane back as soon as I can. Please—you didn’t have the—”

“The memorial service is scheduled for the day after tomorrow,” Thyda said. “I tried to give you enough time—I expected you back long before then. I—We’ll talk later. For now, just… get back. Soon.”

Larina nodded, feeling sick and numb all at once. “I will.”

Larina’s trip back to the states became a blur. She couldn’t remember packing or booking the flight, things she must have done because she was on the plane, but she couldn’t picture any of it, not when she looked back.

She didn’t remember saying goodbye to anyone in Vienna. She didn’t know if she’d managed to tell anyone she was going home, didn’t remember leaving a note. Eventually, she’d have to call and explain everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that even before they asked everyone to turn off their cellphones. She would have to hope that her “friends” understood, if they even talked to her later.

She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. She hadn’t fallen apart when Sorina died, and she refused to do it now. She wouldn’t sleep, no, not on this flight, but she would not cry, either.

The in-flight movie came on, and she found herself watching an old beat-up pickup truck driving down a dirt road, kicking up dust as it went. Her stomach twisted, recognizing not only the state on the license plate but the familiarity of the truck itself.

“I know you were expecting someone younger and prettier, and I promise you, your aunt still is. She didn’t change into an old man while grabbing your bags,” the old man said, managing a smile for both of the girls, and Larina ducked behind Thyda, wishing she felt safer with her sister holding her hand. She didn’t understand, hadn’t since that woman came to them and said their parents were dead. Everything after that was a scary blur, and while their aunt was pretty and looked like their mom and promised them she was going to take care of them, Larina didn’t know that she believed that.

“So’s your uncle, for that matter. Prettier and younger,” the man went on. He shook his head. “Wish these airports would have let me bring old Hank in. He’d have made this okay somehow.”

“Hank?” Thyda asked. “Who is Hank? Our uncle’s name is Burditt.”

“Hank’s my coonhound,” the man answered. “Comes with me everywhere—except airports. I’m sorry, girls. Thing about farms is that there’s always some kind of animal emergency somewhere, and your uncle got caught deep in the middle of one right now, so he asked me to come by and get you and your aunt.”

“Why should we believe that?” Thyda demanded, sounding a lot braver than eight years old.

“It’s okay, girls,” Sorina said, putting her hand on Thyda’s shoulder. “Morely here is an old family friend, and he and Hank aren’t anything to be afraid of. Can’t say the same about that old truck of his, though.”

No, that old truck had been one hell of a wreck waiting to happen, but her aunt and uncle ended up borrowing it more often than they could drive their own, even after Morely died and that damned thing went to Dillon.

Larina grimaced. She did not want to think about Dillon, not right now. That was a bunch of water under a washed out bridge, and while they had somehow managed to stay friends, that was all they were, that water was muddy and deep and not worth disturbing.

“Well, what do you think? This is home now,” Sorina told them, holding open the door and letting them climb out of the rickety truck. Larina looked up at the house, the peeling paint, the gutter falling off, and she turned to Thyda, wanting to ask if they really had to stay here. “I know it’s not what you’re used to, but I think you’ll like it all the same.”

“At least when the cows aren’t out,” a man said, coming up to wrap his arm around Sorina’s waist. He smiled down at them. “I think both of you would like the horses a lot more, though. You want to meet them?”

“Oh, Burditt. You’d think you wanted the horse farm more than I do,” Sorina teased, and his eyes seemed to sparkle with warmth as he kissed her cheek. Larina peeked around Thyda’s side, and he held out a hand to her.

When she took it, she started to think maybe this could be home.

Larina wouldn’t have thought she’d manage to sleep on the plane, but she must have slept because her time lost in memories could not account for all of the transatlantic flight. She couldn’t remember ever being bumped, and she knew she’d missed the in-flight movie. Somehow the whole flight was over before she knew it, and the plane was touching down at the airport.

The bump as the plane landed was minor, but it still shook her. Her stomach twisted. She was back, and that made it all real, painfully real.

Her uncle was gone. Things had changed.