Eaton was grateful when his cabin came into view. He ushered the twins inside. Miki looked up sleepily from the couch and Eaton hurried over, kneeling beside him.
“What are your names?” he asked the twins, as he checked on Miki.
The twins stood just inside the door and looked silently around the long narrow room - dining room, kitchenette, and living room combined.
Eaton stood, retrieved the herbs from his backpack, and gathered up the mortar and pestle from beside the sink.
“You can sit, if you’d like,” he said, motioning to the small dining table.
The twins exchanged glances and continued to hover by the door.
Birke continued to explore Canby's downtown. On the main street, he passed a butcher’s shop, a seamstress' shop, and a bookstore. Then he reached a hardware store with a hiring sign in the window.
Upon entering the hardware store, Birke was pleasantly greeted by a stocky man. Their conversation flowed easily. When the owner emerged from an aisle and walked closer to greet Birke, his enthusiasm faltered as his gaze went to Birke’s shoe. The employee’s gaze followed and he frowned as well.
“No,” said the owner. “My customers know where I stand. I can’t hire you.”
Birke left, unsettled, and glanced at the splatter of silver on his shoe. He thought he had been careful while melting mirrors with Ashton, so he hadn’t given a second thought about his shoes.
A thin man walked by, nodded in greeting, and then stopped a few feet away and turned toward him. A nervousness flittered behind the man's deep brown eyes, and dark patches rested beneath them, but the man noticeably relaxed in Birke's presence.
“Birke!” said the man, with a smile. It was a smile Birke recognized. Though the man's light beige skin was recovering from a sunburn, and his wavy dark brown hair had become long and tangled, it would take more than that for Birke to forget the face of someone from his mountain village. “Didn’t think I’d see you around here! Heard you left the village after-”
“No need to be so formal, Al’s fine. So, you sticking around? We could always use more help.” He smiled. “There are two Houses now, which keep us busy. Or, if you want, you can help out Crafting. You were always good with metal, right?”
The sisters sat with Dara by the fire until Ashton arrived with wood for the firewood box. When he was finished filling the box, he joined them.
“This is Laurel and Sadie,” Dara told him.
“Glad to know your real name, Laurel,” he said. “Those garbled things Sable calls names are a waste. Though, Sadie, Indigo told us you weren’t part of the trade after all. Sorry for the confusion this morning.”
“Thank you,” said Sadie. “I didn’t even know what the trade was, or that Laurel was in it, before last night.”
“Well, you're lucky,” he said with a smile.
They sat in the flickering light of the hearth for a few moments longer, then the sisters helped Ashton and Dara make dinner.
Laurel was getting flour from the pantry when her hood slipped off. Her cheeks went red and she fumbled with it trying to get it back up.
“May want to keep it off,” said Ashton, “it gets pretty warm in here when we’re baking.”
“And it’s nice being able to see your eyes, dear,” said Dara, carrying the bag of flour to the counter.
“She has our mom’s eyes,” said Sadie.
Laurel kept her hood off as they worked.
As the sun rose over the stream and Eaton’s truck, it illuminated the fog blanketing the water. Eaton awoke and glanced at Miki resting on the backseat. The dog’s chest rose and fell, just as it had each time Eaton had checked throughout his fitful sleep. He breathed a sigh of relief and went to open the truck door, but something in the fog stopped him.
Figures were moving on the edge of the stream. Eaton ducked as low as he could and peered over the dashboard. As he studied the figures, he noticed they were carrying something between them.
They went closer to the stream and disappeared into the fog. Eaton tensed up and was peering through the blinding white to get a better glimpse, when a vivid shape came out of the fog. Two people were paddling a canoe along the stream, absorbed in conversation with one another. The fog engulfed them and their voices died away.
Taking deep breaths, Eaton waited a few moments longer, then eased himself from the truck.
Farther along the tote road, he found a grey truck. He had heard from Sable of a boat launch in the area, but hadn’t given it much thought until that moment. The section of tote road that connected to the main road had been filled in with gravel to make access easier.
At the stream, he splashed water on his face in an attempt to wake up. When he found his thoughts wandering back to the night before, he turned to leave.
His gaze fell on a shape in the ferns. “No,” he said, hurrying forward. “No, no, no.”
Glancing anxiously about, he scooped up the crate.