“Oye como va, mi ritmo…” Grace sings softly, her contralto counterpoint to a sudden glissando of harp from a distant room. The ancient mp3 player is propped against the kitchen window, a set of tiny, tinny speakers perched atop the scratched and beaten machine. Normally, she’d rather listen to the harp. Although it sometimes sounds as disjointed as the wind chimes hanging all over the house, Marcie shows some real talent. In another place or time, she would probably be taking music lessons. But Santana is soothing, and the coming storm was making Grace’s sinuses ache.
Absently, she pushes the ragged sleeve of a borrowed henley up higher, out of the way, and blows a strand of starkly black hair out of her face. It was unbearably hot earlier, but now it seems chilly, even in the kitchen. Storm front?
Lucas comes crashing in the back door, his auburn hair a messy wind sculpture, his eyes grave and dark. He silently hands Grace a kid-sized handful of summer savory for the stew. The storm door bangs in the wind, but he doesn’t move to latch it. Hopefully that abrupt entrance didn’t mess up any of their benefactor’s elaborate and arcane alarms.
Lucas is much too quiet, much too serious, and Grace reaches out to smooth his hair. “It’s ok, honey, it’s just a storm. Go close the door, now, before it breaks.” Pen is one of the kindest people she has ever met, but his house is a wreck. If he even tried to fix every thing that was trashed, he would have time for nothing else.
Besides, he’s far too busy trying to fix all the broken people to worry much about the broken house. The task he’s taken on is sad, and noble, and difficult. Not hopeless, though. Every step taken in the right direction is the embodiment of hope. It’s not an abstract, not to Grace.
Lucas moves to latch the door, and she washes the herb, crushes the leaves, and throws them in with the potatoes, celery and carrots. There are bits of chicken in the pot, too — somewhere. But it smells pretty good. She doesn’t much care for cooking, but helping Pen cope with his busy life is its own reward. She owes him a lot. She had been at wit’s end when Pen found them at the bus station in town. Not too many people would have taken them in like this.
After Lucas jiggles the door handle, he comes back to stand near the stove instead of going into the parlor to join Pen’s kids. Grace dries her hands and silences Santana in mid-wail. “Lucas. What’s up?” Her voice is sharp, worried. The approaching storm has put everyone on edge.
His eyes are still huge and dark, a tear trembling on one ginger eyelash. He hands her a single sky blue feather, lightly shaded with black and grey. It’s achingly beautiful.
Grace’s stomach sinks. “Oh, Estelle.”