Apologies all Around

Continued from ‘Safe

“What happened?” The woman asks as Arabella carries me into the house. With no furniture, she sets me on the metal floor in the kitchen and crouches next to me, squeezing my hand gently.

I tug my knees to my chest. The tears no longer flow and I breathe normally, but fear still hangs on my edges. It threatens to grab me again.

“I just went to fetch water at the well,” Arabella explains.

The woman glances at the doorway.

Cly stands with two buckets of water, his eyes on Arabella until he notices the woman watching him. “Ma’am,” he offers, setting the buckets down between them.

“So,” the woman begins. Her lips purse. Her arms cross over her chest. “That’s what happened, huh?” She watches the young man with a scrutinizing gaze.

“I’m terribly sorry,” he offers, ducking his head. “I never meant for any of this to happen. It’s my fault.”

The woman cocks her head to the side before glancing at Arabella.

“He stole the hook from people who’d been waiting longer and they-” Arabella cuts off. She ducks her head. Her dark eyes settle on me as she runs a hand over my hair.

“They got nasty,” Cly finishes.

The woman’s arms settle to her sides. “This again,” she sighs. Her head tips forward. She places a hand to her forehead like she’s in pain and the other settles on her hip. “I thought we were past all this.”

“The town gossips never let you forget,” Arabella bites, her tone a snarl. She squeezes my hand a little tighter.

The woman glances to Arabella, a sad look in her eyes. “No… They don’t.” Once more she sighs, but she says nothing more. Instead, she grabs the two buckets of water from the floor and sets them on the counter. “Well, at least we managed to collect some water for the day.”

“Ma’am, if there’s anything I can do to help.” Cly steps forward.

She waves her hand in his direction. “Son, I think you’ve done enough for one day.”

His jaw clenches. His eyebrows sag like a rejected child and he steps back. “I understand. I truly am sorry.”

“I know, Cly,” the woman responds. “It’ll be alright. You’ll see. The people will let move on and find some other gossip soon enough, but for now, you should return to your parents. They’ll want to know you’re alright.”

The young man gives a sharp nod. “I’ll…” His eyes shift to Arabella crouching next to me. “See you later.”

Her eyes soften. Her lips smile ever so slightly, but with a hint of sadness.

When he leaves, Arabella’s mother turns to us. “Again, Arabella?”

Arabella stands, facing the older woman. “I didn’t know he was going to be there. He just… shows up!” She throws her hands in the air in exasperation.

I clutch my knees closer to myself. My body trembles.

Her mother turns to me and sighs. “I know he does, Arabella.” She fixes a stern gaze on her daughter and adds, “and you know why he just shows up.”

Arabella nods. Her head hangs. Her shoulders slump forward. “I know. I’ve tried to get him to stop, but-“

“He won’t,” her mother cuts in from where she faces the counter. “He’ll never stop. It’s just who he is.”

A tightness settles in Arabella’s jaw. “And here all I thought he cared about was se-“

“Arabella!” The older woman whips around, a shocked surprise on her face. Her eyes flicker to me and then back to her daughter.

“Oh. Sorry,” she apologizes, staring at me in silence a moment. “I don’t know what happened to her at the well.”

“Clara suffered some serious trauma during the riot yesterday,” her mother explains. She crouches next to me, running a hand over my hair with affection. “You may do well to keep her away from large crowds for a while.”

Arabella’s dark brows furrow with sadness. “I’m sorry, Ma. I didn’t realize…”

“It’s okay.” The woman tucks a finger under my chin and lifts my face to meet hers. “Clara’s strong. She’ll be okay. Won’t you?”

Am I strong? I don’t respond. I simply stare back at the woman, confused and afraid. I don’t think so.

Next Installment: Caged Animal

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