Raising a Hero–Chapter 5

Milly laughed with a thunk of morning bread dough.

“Yes, what are you, Lil’? Angel? Demon? Pedophile?”

I didn’t find this amusing at all. “That’s crass, Milly.”

“Hey, at least it’s out there now.”

“No, it’s not,” I shuddered and looked back to give Gus a pleading look. “I swear I’m not a creep, okay?”

But his hands flew up even as I said it. “I-I-I didn’t mean—I don’t think you’re—“ he ducked his head, but there was no hair to hide the spreading pink across his forehead and ears. “I don’t think you’re a pedophile.”

“Good. Because I’m not.” Now I was blushing too, partially because it had taken a week for this to come up. A week of me crying over him and hugging and kissing his head and sleeping in his bed. 

“She’s been married before, hun,” said Milly from behind me. 

That made Gus do a double take, both at me and Milly. “Your—where’s your—?”

I sighed. It was one of the few bits about me I had told Hal and Milly when I’d come to live with them. City or not, it was still a small community of people who didn’t move often, so they knew an outsider when they saw one. They’d needed explanations as to why a young woman with healing powers had traveled to the city on her own without any seemingly common knowledge. It was dangerous for a woman on her own in an old world where a man was expected to be in charge of her life. 

“He left me for another woman after the loss of our fourth baby,” I said as lightly as I could. “I couldn’t stay living in the house, so I came here to look for work over a week ago. I’m kind of bad at it though.”

“You are not,” said Milly. “He was just better off than us. If anything, it’s very brave for a girl raised with servants to set out on her own, and willing to do hard work at that.”

That little lie would have to do, so I just tried to smile with it.

Gus, however, wore his first frown. It was just as knobby as his knees on his fleshless cheeks.

“Don’t you have a dad to take care of you?” he asked with surprising terseness and not a trace of his usual uncertainty.

I shook my head. “No mom either. I have no one. So…so I’m sorry for, um, latching on to you like a creep, I just—I just thought I saw someone alone like me and thought you wouldn’t mind—but it’s okay if you do mind and want to leave once you’re better! You don’t have to stay with me, I wasn’t expecting you to be all ingratiated to me or anything, you just looked so sad and like my babies—“

Milly’s warm, thick hand on my head stopped me.

“You’re rambling, Lil’.”

Now it was my turn to bow my head in shame. I couldn’t look at Gus’s face. Some part of me had hoped I’d never have to confront him about me weird clingy behavior. That he would just go with it because I’d save him and all, but even thinking that made me feel a little guilty. It was like I was taking advantage of him and expecting him to worship me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I thought I might cry again. What the crap had just come out of me? Did I have to mention my babies? Nobody liked hearing a sob story. Everyone had a hard life. Hadn’t I just been face slapped on seeing Gus in an alley that my life was luxurious in comparison?

“So…so you just…” he fell quiet.

“Just what?” I asked, as gently as possible.

But he was looking at his half peeled potato. 

“Aren’t you afraid of my eyes?” he asked.

That lost me. “Huh? Why would I be afraid of your eyes?”

“Their color…” he said.

When I continued to be confused, Milly sighed and dropped the dough she had been working on the wooden paddle for baking.

“Red eyes are considered a claim from the devil, since those with them tend to have a talent for dark magic.”

I frowned. “So?”

Milly just chuckled, although Gus dropped the potato.

“What do you mean so?” he asked. “I’m a devil child. You picked up a devil’s child.”

Even if I hadn’t been too used to his quiet, docile demeanor for the past week, the sudden whiplash of his changing mood would have thrown me.

“But you’re not,” I said.

“How do you know? Did you really just grab on to the first dying kid you saw? Do you really not care as long as they look desperate enough to love you?”

Whatever I had been expecting from him, it wasn’t this. I stood frozen as though stabbed through with knives. 

The red eyes that were glaring at me…they weren’t the eyes of an eight-something-year-old child. They had seen through me and perceived more than even Milly or Hal had, or simply hadn’t bothered to tell me that they had guessed.

He was standing now, and the little knife he’d been peeling with suddenly looked dangerous. His once round eyes had grown sharp.

But the hand holding the knife trembled and his breathing had grown quick and hitched, as though crying.

“You didn’t stop to think of what I’d do, huh? Probably had as bad a judge of character of me as you did that shit stain of a husband. Where’s your brain? Why don’t you just get a pet dog if you someone to love you so much?!”

A loud slap cut through the kitchen air.

Milly stood over him, strong hand still raised for another. Her face looked calm, as she had waited until he had said the final word before delivering the blow.

“Milly!” I cried, even as I stopped myself from jumping forward to sweep my baby from her reach. But I couldn’t. He didn’t want to be mine. He wasn’t. Those eyes hadn’t been those of a baby, let alone anything of mine.

Quicker than I could believe on those skinny limbs, he slipped off the stool and vanished outside.

I ran after him, throat tight with alarm.

“Gus!”

My purpose—the reason I was here—my first chance—

Milly’s hand on my arm stopped me.

“Let him,” she said. “If he’s going to be ungrateful, he might as well die.”

“No!” I cried. “No-no-no he’s just a kid! Just a little boy, he—he didn’t mean it like that, he was probably just scared—“

“Lil’, that little boy is fourteen years old.”

I stopped tugging. “Huh?”

“Lack of food can do that.”

I stared at her in shock for a full thirty seconds longer before the next wave of shame overwhelmed me.

Then…then all that time I’d been babying him like a child, kissing his head, hugging him so he’d be warm, calling him sweetie…I’d been doing that to a teenager?

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

Stupid god. You’d told me he was a little boy. You told me I’d be able to raise babies here. But, of course, no one answered my heaven-sent thoughts.


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