Story by James Todd Lewis; Chapter and section breaks by Kat Miller!
An extension of the story told in The Summit (available as an eBook from Amazon)!
(c) All characters copyright of James Todd Lewis (2015)
Discovering a Brother
Five sols later, Liana walked into the back corner of the warehouse area, checklist in paw, ready to finish up the ordering list when she saw Tresk sitting at a table again, simply staring ahead. “Tresk?” she asked. “What’s going on with you?”
He looked at her and sighed, “I’m … done with all my real work, and I was thinking that I really don’t have any other place to go. I … I guess I’m still angry about de Kestrick turning me down.”
She sat across from him and asked, “Did they tell you why?”
“Something about … insufficient references or … some such, oh I don’t know,” he groused.
“Kylie showed me the form a few nights ago. She said that it comes from a system Sahnassa de Orturu devised. How many references did you include?”
“Well, none, actually,” he confessed angrily and stood up to walk away.
“Tresk,” Liana asked. “Why didn’t you include any references? You’ve worked here how long? Surely you could have listed Vanarra?”
“I shouldn’t have to get others to speak up for me,” he complained. “I have a stable paycheck, and I haven’t been in trouble recently. That should be enough.” Tossing a piece of paper in the trash, he started again to walk away.
“Tresk, come back, please. I want to help. Why are you sabotaging yourself like this?”
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “I’m not; I just don’t have anyone who will recommend me. Nobody here actually likes me. I’m not nice, and I don’t hug. I’m not a great artistic talent or a cook. I just fix broken things and give out drinks and food.”
“You’re a team player. Sure, you’re rough and claws bared – I’ve heard that, but … I asked if anyone had ever known you to take a sol off or lay out sick. You don’t.”
“I need the job, Liana; that’s all.”
“Vanarra still awards vacation time. Have you ever taken any?”
“I … I think I … well, not … recently.”
“Have you ever taken time off?” Liana asked again. “A single sol?”
Turning back towards her, he admitted with a shrug, “I … don’t think so.”
“What about the quality of your work? I’ve seen the repairs you do; I’ve even helped. You don’t do a half job. You bring back to life the most impossible wrecks – broken chafing dishes, tables, bent flatware. You help keep Vanarra’s operating expenses low. She depends upon you for that. You don’t think she would recommend you?”
He walked back and sat down across from her. “The recommendation, if she could be talked into writing one, would go something like this. He shows up and does his job, but nobody likes him, and he’s a pain in the tail. That’s a little hard to overcome.”
“Do you ever apologize?”
“Once … in a great while.” She looked at him for a few moments, and he asked, “What?”
“You know, Tresk, families have a right to adopt only the candidates they think will bring them honor. For family houses, that’s what this is about. It’s also about being dependant on one another. Now that I’ve lost all that, I truly understand it. I feel … I feel like my life is dangling on a frayed string that’s about to snap in two. Working here gives you a sense of security, doesn’t it? Gives you a place?”
He nodded, and she continued, “A family gives you that, too, but they also expect something in return. They expect for you to help, even when there’s nothing in it for you. They expect for you to care about what happens to others in the family. In short, they expect you to be a part of it. You have to want to do that, here, and eventually with a family.”
“Everyone!” Mauft’s voice sounded from the other side of the shelves. “Van’s pulling together a quick meeting in one quarter interval. Make sure you show up.”
“Great. I wonder what this one’s about? Perhaps, she’s being promoted to dame already,” Tresk mused.
“Doubtful. Hey, Tresk, you … you do what you want, but honestly, I think that you might find the others you work with more willing to give you a good reference than you might think. Maybe, if you tried, you might think of a place where you could use what you do here to help someone else – start building a few more good references.”
“Just tell me this, Liana, and be damned straight with me. Is it worth what you went through?”
Liana looked at him and said, “Yes. I … I know now what my family was doing was wrong, but in terms of … being happy and feeling like I had a purpose, I never felt that more than when I was doing something for the good of the family. I felt … I hoped rather, that what I did for the family would matter, and make them greater. Unfortunately, as we now know, there were too many working to make them less than what they should have been. So, yes, and I will work as hard as I can and do whatever is needed to get back into a family. It may not be possible, but I will try everything I know to do that.”
“Okay. I’ll … I’ll think on it, Liana.”
The Faelnar stood and replied, “Okay. I’ve got to put these things up before the meeting. Kylie will be around to pick me up pretty soon.”
He nodded and raised a paw, dismissing her – his mind too full of conflicting thoughts to form words.
“Attention, everyone,” Van called to bring the somewhat unruly crowd to order. “Good. Now, I can tell by your anxious expressions that you’re waiting for more bad news to drop. Well, sorry, kits and cubs, I’m going to have to disappoint you this time! You see, I’ve been looking over the balance sheets and, you know what? You all have kicked some serious tail in the last few moons! We’ve booked and executed event after event and with good profits, good recommendations, and even some repeat business – you’ve all done amazing work. Now, every one of you did far more than you ever had before when I was promoted to matron. I know,” she continued, her voice a little softer and more understanding, “that you did a lot of that … for me. Thank you. So now, I want to announce a few little bonus items you’ve earned!”
The group was now much more positive, and listened to Vanarra’s words very attentively. “First, I’ve been intentionally keeping the next ten sols absolutely clear. I haven’t accepted any bookings in that time period. You are all getting that time off, with pay.” The group cheered, but Vanarra raised her paw. “Oh, now, now, now! That’s not all! You always do such a great job catering meals for everyone else; don’t you feel like you deserve to be ‘catered to’ a little?”
There were affirmations and agreement aplenty, and Liana saw that even Tresk smiled and nodded at that one. “Well, not so long ago, there was a little happening up in the Yarvea mountains. While I was stuck up there, I heard about a lovely little place called Reston Lake. Now, this part isn’t mandatory, by any means, but I’m organizing a company camping trip up to Reston Lake, where the weather is nice, the fishing is supposed to be pretty good, and the food – which is served out of this lovely little place that roasts practically everything – is supposed to be amazing! I’d like to take as many of you as want to go up on a charter transport, let you bring one or two others along, and just have a good time … as a family. You all know me well enough to know that’s exactly how I think about you, and for all you did when all the craziness was going on, I can tell you feel the same. Details of the trip will be available in a flyer at the front door as you leave tonight, and please, make sure Mauft knows if you want to go. The trip is five sols from now, so just let us know. Any questions?”
“Just one,” Tresk ventured, after glancing at Liana.
“Alright, Tresk,” Van answered, crossing her arms.
“Do … do you need any … help with it? Putting the trip together, I mean?”
“Talk to me after, Tresk. I think there may be something you can do, and for anyone else who wants to pitch in, I would be grateful. Alright, everyone. Thank you very much and … enjoy your time off. You’ve all earned it.” There were cheers and applause as Vanarra waved and walked back to her office.
Saiphar walked over as the applause died down and spoke to Tresk. “Didn’t know you were a lover of the outdoors.”
Tallen walked up and added, “Or volunteering. Thinking you might see a big juicy raise or something? Maybe you’ll finally find someone who likes that scent you wear – someone like a wild prowler perhaps?”
“Or perhaps a stalker who would be swayed by your wonderful charm and tact,” Saiphar piled on.
Liana watched the exchange, and saw Tresk starting to stew at the teases. “Tresk!” she called out. “I’m sorry, but … there’s a problem with a shelf near the back of the building. I know you’re busy, but I can’t finish the last bit of stocking without it. I’m out of room. I need your help, if that would be okay?”
“Oh, sure. Sorry, you two,” Tresk grumped, pushing past them. “I have actual work to do. I don’t have time to waste standing here buzzing my muzzle.”
As she led Tresk away, Tallen was about to call back at him, but Saiphar stayed him by putting a paw on his shoulder. “I … I think Liana just … stood up for Tresk,” he whispered.
“But we tease him like that all the time, and he does it to us,” Tallen complained.
“Perhaps,” Saiphar considered, “we have grown a little too comfortable with picking on Tresk. Perhaps, for him, it isn’t fun anymore.”
“So, show me this shelf, Liana,” Tresk said, as they worked further into the stacks.
“I’m afraid that I wasn’t entirely telling the truth,” she offered, turning to face him. “I was a little … offended by the way they were teasing you.”
“Hey, it’s normal,” Tresk replied, shrugging.
“I don’t like it; forgive me, but I don’t. Do they know what’s happened to you?”
“No. I’d … I wouldn’t tell them. So, why does it bother you so, them picking at me a little?” he asked.
“I … when I was young, I used to get teased like that. It’s just a joke – that’s what they used to say. It would be a joke if I thought it was funny. It wasn’t; they were making fun of me, and no easy excuse of it being a joke changed that. It meant they didn’t care about me, other than as a source of amusement. Then, I fell prey to someone who was a sadistic, brutal nightmare. He teased and mocked and made fun of me when I was hurting more in my life than I ever have. He did it to break me. He did it because it was fun for him. He got off on it. I’m … I’m not someone’s entertainment,” Liana nearly growled, refusing to meet his gaze. “You shouldn’t be either.”
He sighed and put his paws on a shelf. “I do it, too. I do it to them. I’m guilty, as well. Maybe, I need to stop.”
“If all you do is tease back and forth, you never talk. How can you get to know anyone you won’t talk with?” Liana asked. “Maybe I understand why you didn’t want a recommendation from them, if that’s all the kindness they show you.”
Tresk raised his eyebrow fur in surprise. “I guess so. That’s pretty close to how I feel, anyway. I’ll … I’ll try to lay off.”
“They might not, at least not right away, but after awhile, they will, and when they ask you, just say that you don’t feel like it anymore. If they ask why, and they are interested, maybe tell them.”
“Maybe,” he replied. “Thanks for the assist, Liana … and the advice.”
“Thank you, Tresk.” With that, he walked away, and Liana started to work on shelving the last few items, but a snap of metal and a clang on the floor stopped him. “Tresk!”
He turned around and walked quickly back to her, and she was holding up a shelf full of breakable candies with one paw. “It looks like you didn’t lie after all. Can you hold it? I’ll go get my tools.”
“Yes, the other three brackets are holding – but for how long, I don’t know.”
“Well, just don’t move around much. I’ll be back quick.” Tresk darted away back towards his work area to get his tools.
In Vanarra’s office, Kylie was being invited to have a seat on the couch as Van got her a bottle of water. “So, how are things at the gym? Busy?”
“Good. I’ve got a pretty full roster, but I always have one or two spots that open up every few sols. Why? You thinking about coming back in?”
Vanarra sat beside her, passing her the bottle. “I’m thinking about it. Getting my tail kicked at the Hallows and at the hospital showed me that I’m not all that when it comes to fighting. I mean, I have a reputation and all, but that didn’t save me a scar up my arm. I’ve had the subtle hint from Saletta and Kinnessa that they want me to work on my abilities in that area, and as they are dames, I should probably see to it.”
Kylie nodded as she swallowed. “Not all of the skills are going to be fighting arts moves. Some of it is strategy and preparation. I’ll check my schedule and send you my open slots, if you want.”
“That would be great. Hey, I wanted to ask you how Liana’s doing?” Vanarra asked.
“Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing,” Kylie retorted with a smile, but then answered, “She’s doing okay. She’s still not feeling very secure about her place in life right now, even with the paycheck. She tried to give me the whole thing, poor kit. I think she’s worried I’ll kick her out. I told her to give me half, and I would put that towards transportation, food, and rent, but I wanted her to save the rest. The truth is, Van, I’m not really planning on using her money, but if I save it up for her, she’ll be able to buy a small hover in awhile.”
“That’s very kind of you, Kylie,” Van observed. “I’m really surprised by how you’re acting towards her. I mean, I know you took Solana in, and I’m grateful for that because she’s done fantastic, but … I think if I was in Liana’s situation, I couldn’t even hope to find anyone as nice as you are.”
“That’s good of you to say, Van, but I’ve had someone pull me out when my life was going in the pit. Now, I’m not exactly set for life, but I am well taken care of. I’ve paid my rent a season ahead, and even with school, I’m still earning a pretty good living from the gym. It seems that Thurians don’t feel so secure now as they used to, so there’s a lot of interest in how to protect yourself. I couldn’t take that kit’s money, not really.”
“Well, you’re really being fantastic to her, and I was wondering if I could possibly talk you into letting me reward you a little.”
“Really? What did you have in mind?” Kylie asked, a little confused.
“I’m pulling anyone in the office who wants to go up to Reston Lake near the Yarvea mountains for a little getaway. Think you might be interested in spending a little time away from the bustle of Shanandrae?”
“Sounds interesting. Might I invite a friend?” she asked.
Van’s smile was sly. “Or perhaps someone a little closer than a friend?”
“Well, not exactly yet. I … I haven’t actually met him face-to-face. We’ve just been talking over TransNet.”
“Oh really? Then, how did you two meet?” Van asked.
“Well, I joined a little group that someone suggested to me, one where members of our house can sort of adopt a freed Vulpi and help them by answering questions, listening, or supporting them financially. It’s basically a TransNet mailing list, but I met him there, and we’ve kind of … I don’t know, hit it off, I guess.”
“What’s his name?”
“Caloinath de Vassa, and yes, I’ve already shortened that to Cal,” Kylie replied, chuckling.
“It’s a nice, strong name, though,” Van commented. “So, what’s his story?”
“It’s a little odd, really. He was in a work camp, but they didn’t put him in rut trance. I guess if they already have you under guard mining in a hole in the ground, they don’t really need to bother. Well, he showed some unusual talent, so they put him in the administration office. He picked up some good skills, and now he’s found a position in Shanandrae. He’s moving here in a few sols. When’s your event and where is it?”
“Here’s the flyer,” Van offered, pulling one off of her desk.
Looking it over, Kylie commented, “I think this just about fits in with his schedule, and he likes being outside. Would you mind if I brought Cal along? Although, come to think of it, he may have to meet us there.”
“Meet us there? Why’s that?”
“I think he has to sign his lease or something the afternoon we’re going to leave, if I’m remembering right. I could give him directions send it to him in TransNet mail, if you don’t mind.”
“Well,” Van hedged, “you need to be careful about that. Look at the bottom of the flyer. Mauft is warning everyone as they pick up their flyer that this little get-together is strictly confidential. House de Gonari will actually be providing security for it. They’ll keep an outer perimeter while we’re inside. I mean, we’ll practically have the whole lake to ourselves. It’s … it’s Matriarch Amyra’s little gift to everyone who kept my business going while the negotiations took my time.”
“I understand, but then how do I give him directions?” Kylie asked, confused.
“Tell him – in general – what kind of place you’re going to be going to and what to bring, but don’t tell him where to go until he calls you. Be all mysterious and everything; it’s sure to be a bit of a turn-on for him. Males like to be surprised sometimes,” Van told her, winking.
“Alright, Van,” Kylie smiled. “I’ll do it. I guess it would be a good sign to determine if he actually trusts me or not. Hopefully, it will be a first meeting that we both will remember well.”
“Well, even if not, there’s going to be a pile of food, and he’s sure to like that,” Van teased.
“Oh you! It’s not like I’m not nervous about seeing what he looks like.”
“You don’t even know what he looks like?!” Van gasped. “Kylie?!”
“We’ve … described ourselves … more or less, and since he’s been using shared computer equipment, he doesn’t have anything to take an image with. He’s really just starting from bare basics, so … no, I … I don’t know what he looks like.”
“Does he know what you look like?”
“Yes. I … well, he does.”
Van’s eyebrow fur went up, and she smirked a little. “Sounds like he’s gotten a rather … thorough review of your hide.”
Kylie’s blush furs went up. “Okay, okay, perhaps not the best way to start a relationship! I admit, but … he … he was just so nice and … well, complimentary about how I looked. He described me in words I’ve never heard before.”
“Okay, you’re really going to have to keep this quiet, Van.” Van nodded slowly, with a knowing smile on her muzzle. “He said … looking at me walk was like seeing … lightening flash from the sky to the ground, and when he heard me talk, he could imagine stars and beautiful light coming from inside of me. He said my thoughts had these beautiful colors and patterns and shades that were like … fine art.”
“Oh,” Van purred appreciatively. “I like him! That could definitely cause me to go all primal in front of a camera.”
“Let’s face it, Van. A lot of cubs see me as just a little too physically intimidating to hunt. Perhaps working in a mine for a long time, swinging a hammer or using a digger has built him up to the point where I … well, he doesn’t see me that way. I don’t know.”
“Kit, you’re beautiful, and you are not too tough to be loved. I did have one question though, and feel free to say no if you’re uncomfortable.”
“Can you bring Liana?”
“Sure, Van. That wouldn’t be a problem.”
Vanarra was apologetic. “I know this is your big opportunity to meet Cal, but … I’m not sure I want her left alone that long.”
“Have there been problems?”
“Not as such,” Van replied. “Kylie, I think she’s done really well, honestly. It’s just still very early for her, and she values your friendship. I can tell. She’s only been existing between here and your place. She hasn’t been out, and … given what happened to her, I would like for her to have some time with open sky above her as she slept – taste a little real freedom.”
“That’s nice, Van, really. I know she’ll appreciate it. Don’t worry about interfering with me and Cal. We’ve had the discussion already about taking it slow, and he’s so kind that I know he’ll understand about Liana, well, as much as I can tell him, that is.”
There was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Van called.
Liana stood at the door, Tresk beside her. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Van, but we have a problem,” she started.
“Three of the shelf rails just sheered in half,” Tresk explained.
“What?! Did we lose anything?!” Van exclaimed, coming to her hind paws.
“No, thankfully, Liana was there, and while I held things up, she got the stock off of them and onto the floor,” Tresk explained. “The rails and rods on that last shelf are just too damned old. We’ve got to replace them or start stacking things on the floor. I’ve quick-glued and wired them together so many times that’s about all they are.”
“Well, thank you two for catching it and saving the stock. I hate losing inventory to accidents. Tresk, you’re right. It’s been a long time. When we get back from our little time away, can you make the repairs and look at all the other shelves to see which ones need replacing?”
“It’s going to be hard to do that, Van, with everyone here. It would be better if I could just go ahead and get it done while things were sort of shut down.”
“Tresk, you’ve already worked hard enough while I was out,” Van retorted.
“It’s a safety concern, too. To unload and fix those shelves, I’ll have to put stuff … everywhere. It would be a nightmare trying to have everyone maneuver around that, and you know it, boss,” Tresk argued.
“And you’re going to do all that, here by yourself?” Van asked, still not convinced.
“Most Honored,” Liana offered, “he needn’t be alone. I could assist him. I … really wasn’t here while you were out, so I don’t feel I deserve that time off. Also, since … I don’t exactly have anything else to do, it would be good to be useful.”
Van sighed, “Okay, you two. You talked me into it. Tresk, go put together an estimate of what you think it will cost, based on a quick look, if you don’t mind, and then you and I can talk about it before you leave. Liana, if you’re done for the sol, Kylie’s ready to take you home.”
“I believe I’m done. I’ll just go get my things, Kylie, Most Honored,” she said, and at Van’s nod, she left.
Tresk looked at Van curiously. “Most Honored?”
“Long story, Tresk, and one I can’t tell you. Just roll with it,” Van warned evenly.
“Okay, boss,” he said nodding, and then stepped away.
When Tresk was out of earshot, Van softly assured Kylie, “You can bet I’m going to have a nice, long talk with him this evening about behaving himself. You might warn her a little on the way home that she doesn’t have to put up with any behavior she’s not comfortable with.”
“I’ll do it. I don’t pick up that kind of interest from him. I … I honestly think it just might be friendship.”
“Hmm… haven’t seen it yet with Tresk, but I suppose there’s always a first time. Tana opened up whole new worlds for our dear Mauft, and who knows, maybe Liana can help Tresk a bit.”
“Or the other way around,” Kylie noted.
Liana stepped up to Van’s doorway and said, “I’m ready, Kylie. Most Honored, thank you again for everything you are giving me, and Kylie, you, too.”
“My pleasure, kit. You’re doing a wonderful job.”
“Absolutely right, Van,” Kylie added standing. “How does broiled swimmer fish with Taprician spices and boiled dusk tubers sound?”
“Like a good meal, for sure.”
“Take care, you two,” Van replied as they turned to leave. “Have a good evening.” With Kylie’s wave and wink, they were both away.