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 it 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; the two men 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.
Birke yawned and peered out of the bus window; they had pulled up at a gas station. a small placard attached to the building denoted its status as a bus stop.
“Canby!” announced the driver.
venturing down Canby's main street, Birke passed darkened storefronts and restaurants; the sun had barely risen above the horizon so the docks, with departing working boats, were the liveliest part of town. he grabbed an apple from his backpack to ease his hunger and ate it as he wandered down the hill toward the docks.
at the waterfront, he watched fishermen loading their boats and directing their helpers. birds called and waves splashed. he smiled; it was so different from his village.