Back - Part IV

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TWILIGHT, AND Mark went out to the barn to do the last of the day's milking. Evvie went upstairs to check on Gwennie and wake her for her feeding. She didn't expect that either she or Mark were going to sleep any time soon, but the little rituals of the world didn't stop just because two strange people had dropped out of the sky. Evvie found Basil standing in the dark at the foot of Gwennie's crib, staring, watching silently as the baby slept. It should have made Evvie uncomfortable — instead, she found it strangly endearing, though still mostly creepy.

Evvie shifted from foot to foot in the doorway, then made a decision. "Do you want to hold her?" she asked.

He raised his head slightly, not surprised by Evvie's sudden question, and she realized that he had probably known Evvie was there the whole time. He was (scary) special ops trained.

"Don't want to wake her," he said.

"She's going to wake herself in about five minutes." Evvie padded across the wooden floor to stand beside him and stare down at her child. She held out the bottle. "I've discovered that if I do the waking, she's less cranky than if she does it on her own."

Basil took the bottle with another small, crooked grin. "That's truth for the next twenty-nine years, too," he admitted.

Evvie reached down into the crib, rubbed Gwennie's tummy gently until she cracked a sleepy, hopeful eye. Food time, Mom?

Basil chuckled. "I know that face. That's the where's-my-damn- coffee face."

Gwennie suffered Evvie scooping her up, offering nothing more than a gummy yawn when she transferred Gwen to Basil's arms.

"Mind her head," Evvie said softly, and obviously needlessly; Basil already had a large, gun-calloused palm cradling her expertly.

He lifted the bottle to her mouth, hummed a bit when she took the nipple without protest, and smiled. "She looks like a tennis ball. Just like my sister's kids," he said.

"You have a sister?" Evvie asked, seizing on the tidbit of information; wanting desperately to make (it right) conversation.

"Mm," he said, nodding once, slowly. His eyes never left Gwennie's face, mesmerized, probably looking for the woman he loved in the baby fat and button nose. Evvie had done the opposite earlier. "Two. Older. Right horrors to grow up with — teased me for years. We got close after they both got married, and I realized how...empty my life is. Was." He smiled softly, and Evvie knew he was seeing things, people behind his eyes, that she could never know. "Used to be."

Another question danced around the room, and Evvie ignored it, even as she felt it crawl into her mouth.

"What's a Kalp?" She asked instead, frantic to keep the sound of voices in the semi-dark, or she might forget that he was human, might forget that they had saved her, might forget that he was hurting, might forget everything but her own irrational fear and that these people were strange. And that she (pitied) loved Gwen anyway.

Had to love her because Evvie couldn't hate her.

"Who," Basil corrected glumly. "He...he was killed by, uh... another Specialist. He was...he was smart. He was..." Basil swallowed hard. "He used to mean a lot to Gwen and me. Before...well, before." He looked up, eyes finding the silhouette of the corn against the darkening sky, seeing people and shadows and things that made the corner of his crooked mouth pull down. "Kalp lived with us. We were a...an Agl — a team," he said, correcting himself before he actually made the verbal slip, mindful of his audience. He gave a little huffing chuckle. "We shared a house. Kalp wanted to get chickens, 'cause the people in the movies always have chickens. British gardens and estates and all that. He devoured movies, liked the way the hum of the electronics felt against his skin. Never mind that we only had a small garden. A fox got at one, and Gwen had to strangle the poor thing with her bare hands. I couldn't bear to watch, but the sound was enough. Kalp made mushroom sauce and I refused to go into the kitchen until its eyes were gone. Gwen thought it was the funniest thing..." He frowned again, trailed off, closed his eyes.

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