Al and Aggie stumbled down the street, dodging past any man that happened to open a door and step outside. One even managed to grab ahold of Al’s sleeve, but Aggie yanked his friend from the man’s grasp.
“I went the wrong way,” Aggie said after they ducked into a side street. “We need to get out of the docks.”
“I don’t know where we are.” Al was starting to sober quickly.
“What’s the street sign say? I’m not sober enough to read it.”
Al found that he could read it clear as day even though it was shadowed and beyond his normal vision. “Apex. The other sign across the way is Meadow.”
Aggie held his hand above his eyes and squinted. “You can read that? Fine. Good.” He started drawing lines in the air when they heard several mens’ feet slapping down the cobblestones. One spotted them and yelled at his friends to turn.
Aggie jerked Al’s arm and they began running again. He pulled his friend down a dizzying maze of streets that circled them back to the Donis Gate, that iconic monolith that welcomed sailors to Whitney. Aggie shoved Al to the right, which caused him to trip and fall into a small patch of garbage.
They both caught their breath and listened to see if anyone had caught up to them. All was silent.
“I could’ve taken them,” Aggie said. “I should have stayed and fought.”
“You’re drunk. You might have taken a few. I wouldn’t be able to help you out. Any one of them would have broken my nose completely.”
“They’re dock people. Weak bones. You would have been fine.”
Al finally pulled himself out of the garbage, picking peels and rotten cuts of meat off his shirt. “What was she yelling?”
“Huh?” he asked, turning back from his surveillance. “Oh, ikadi tonnarit? It means ‘help me, my family’. She was making it sound like we were going to kill her. The dock people are tight-knit, so they came to her aid. Those guys would’ve beaten us so badly we wouldn’t be in work for a week.”
“Oh,” was all Al could say.
They stayed in the shadows for several minutes, listening for anything that constituted as a problem. Al had slipped into the Unease a while prior to leaving the docks, so his hearing was at his top range. Nothing. A few men strolled under the Donis Gate and walked briskly past Al and Aggie’s hiding place, but they seemed more interested in being unnoticed then looking for someone.
Al cut off his powers before he used too much and began to display symptoms from it. He turned to his friend and gave a short, huffing laugh. “Remember that time we bumped into two of your girlfriends at the same time?”
“Yeah,” Aggie said, laughing. “I tried telling you to occupy Siliya so I could lead Martisa away and say goodbye. You just stood there, stuttering, then stepping in her way. For a smart guy, you’re kind of dumb when it comes to things like that, Al. Siliya caught on and went right for Martisa.”
“I wasn’t expecting them to turn on each other. That got pretty nasty pretty fast.”
Aggie laughed quietly again. “You’ve never seen women fight each other before, have you? Men have rules and we stick to those rules. Women? No rules. They pull hair, they scratch each other with their nails, they bite each other.”
“Glad I’m not a woman. I’d hate to fight some of your girlfriends, like that Astinia you were dating for a while.”
“Oh, Astinia,” Aggie said with a grin. “Yeah, she was wild, that one. Great for one thing and one thing only. Not so great when she started to catch onto things. I barely kept her from finding out about Essa. And then when I finally dumped her, it got worse. Ember had to take care of her.”
“Ember did? You never told me that.”
Aggie rubbed the back of his neck. “Astinia knew where I worked, so she entered Milxner’s trying to find me. She wouldn’t leave until I came in, then she wouldn’t leave after I told her to. Ember finally got fed up and came out of her office. Uh, don’t say anything? I’m pretty sure she poured fear into Astinia and told her some far Berothian about how if she came back, something bad would happen.”
Al frowned. It went against the wizarding code to do something like that. Not that Al was totally surprised by it. “How is it, working under Ember?”
Aggie shrugged. “Fine, I guess. She finds me work, I do the work, she pays me. We don’t say much. Once in awhile, she’ll call me in and see how I’m doing.”
Al thought that might be more to do with making sure her work mule was in good shape and less to do with how she cared about his well-being. They were silent for a few minutes, then Al said, “I think we’re safe.”
“Yeah, I think we’re good,” Aggie said as he stood up. “I’m going to take off for home, Al.” He clasped a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”
“You, too. Tell Essa and the boys I said ‘hi’.” He was a little pleased to see Aggie flinch with guilt.
Alpine took a northern route home, past Jindahl and Stohr, and down all the familiar routes. It reminded him of walking home during the winter months, during the time when night set early. This was different, of course, since it was in the very late part of spring. The warmth of the day still lingered long after the shopkeepers had closed their businesses. Only a stiff breeze off the shore brought any relief as he walked down the streets of Whitney.
It was quiet. It wasn’t like the early morning quiet, where you heard the occasional person moving or talking. There were no birds chirping and his footsteps felt incredibly loud. So did the sound of the front gate swinging open, the jingling of his key in the front door, and the sound of Marnie screaming at the top of her lungs. So much for coming home and dropping into a Kriskin-blessed slumber.
“Where were you?” Burdet asked. Her dark hair had become unpinned in several places and gave her a frayed look. Her small features had once made her appear doll-like, with a small, plump mouth, a mere bump of a nose, and tilted, brown eyes that once shone with passion. Now, that passion had turned to anger and it was directed solely on Al.
She was holding Marnie on her hip, rocking her back and forth. He wanted to correct her. That’s not how you soothe your daughter, he thought, but held his tongue. This was going to go badly even without Al criticizing his wife.
“I was out,” he replied, leaning against the frame of the front door.
“Out? Out where?”
“Out drinking with a friend.”
Burdet started pacing and bouncing Marnie to soothe her. “My sister dropped Marnie off at my job when you never showed up to take her home. I could have lost my job, Al! My boss was quite angry with me.”
Al walked past her into the bedroom. Burdet continued. “You don’t even have to make all the money. I work so that you can have your stupid job that you love so much. I shouldn’t have to. I should be at home, taking care of Marnie and you should be making all the money.”
“I don’t even ask for nice things. I don’t ask for fancy jewelry or dresses, because I know you can’t afford them.” Al noticed she was wearing earrings he had never bought her. He doubted they came from her sister or that she bought them herself. “I’m a good wife, Al. I do my share, you do yours.”
She followed him into the bedroom, watching as he crushed the end of the match and lit the bedroom candles with it. He felt a bit self-conscious as he changed into his bed clothes in front of his wife. Burdet didn’t seem to notice.
“Tonight, though, you didn’t do your job. Your onejob: pick Marnie up from my sister’s so that I can work my full shift! I had to leave work early, come home, pick up this pigsty, cook dinner, feed Marnie, all because you wanted to shirk your duties and go out drinking with a friend. What’s his name? Or was it even a ‘he’?” She paused to think about this for a moment. “Are you seeing someone else? Are you cheating on me?”
Al crawled into bed and pulled the covers over him. “Oh, no,” his wife said, yanking the covers off. “You think you can ignore me?”
“I apologized. I’m not cheating on you. I just went out for drinks once. I don’t plan on doing that again for a long time. ”
“You’re not going to do that ever again!” When he didn’t say anything, Burdet went on. “I bet you spent our bill money on drinks and whores, too! Where are your tips?”
“Not whores. Definitely not whores. Just beer. Pleaselet me sleep so I can get up and go to work tomorrow. It’s going to be rough enough as it is.”
Marnie continued to cry. Al wanted to take her from his wife and hold her, stroke her hair until she fell asleep against his chest. Burdet had no idea how to calm her down. Maybe if she actually spent a few evenings with her daughter once in awhile, she’d know.
Burdet huffed out of the room. Al thought he might be able to fall asleep if she held Marnie on the opposite side of the house for a while. Instead, the front door slammed. Al jumped out of bed and found Marnie on the floor, facing the door her mother had just left, reaching out for her memory. He picked her up and rocked her, singing lullabies and smoothing her hair. When she finally calmed down to sucking on her thumb, he pulled out the trundle and tucked her in.
That small part of him that still yearned for adventure spoke. Something’s got to give, it said. Something’s got to change. But how?
Al could’ve planned, but he was exhausted. He fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.