Mom left right after that. She gave me a tight smile, saluted the Major, and briskly went outside, back to doing her job. I still huddled inside Daddy’s arms, and I felt his chest move as he expelled a sigh. He turned to the Wests.
“Joss did not ask if it was alright. To have Tawny stay, is it alright?”
I could feel Mrs. West about to say no. Mr. West knew it too, because he spoke quickly, in a firm voice. “Of course. Your daughter will always be welcome in our house.”
Mrs. West’s mind flared with denial, but he had gripped her arm as he spoke, which I guess was him telling her not to speak.
Daddy gave me back to Sam after taking a moment to give me another gentle squeeze. He spoke gently while leaving his hand on my little back. “Tawny eats human food, but right now, trouble to get around. Hard to get up and down off chairs. Not yet to learn how. To help, please. And to also be sure always Tawny has the scrying glass… this necklace.”
He and the Major left together. It was just me and the Wests, and some soldiers now. I felt lonely, but Sam’s arms kept holding me against her chest the same way Daddy’s had. Her mind was still swirling with conflicting emotions, but one fierce one seemed to keep coming up. She felt determined to never leave me alone. That, and her arms around me, really helped.
Mrs. West grilled her husband in a loud whisper. “Dear, why did you agree to let her stay here? We can’t be responsible for her! We don’t know anything about taking care of her kind!”
Her husband shook his head. “I heard the entire story on the way here, Lydia. That girl saved our daughter’s life, not once, but twice. The second time, she almost died! Do you understand that? If Rufus hadn’t shown up in time, she would have died saving Sam!”
She didn’t look like she was ready to care about that. But I know that she was thinking about the safety of people she cared about. She had no room to worry for the life of the monster in the room.
After waiting a moment for her to think about it, Mr. West continued, “I know all Zindavoor are really brave and all that, so you might be thinking it’s just normal for Tawny, but that girl, she’s only a little kid! Zindavoor take 33 years to become adults! Tawny is like a Human seven-year-old!”
That last bit was a surprise to me. I had assumed I was just five years from adulthood like all my friends. Was he right about that? Was I some kind of second grader?
Her voice dropped to a hiss. “She’s a Zin, Bill! She can kill just by looking at you! She could kill us all, right now!”
The hate in her mind hadn’t decreased a bit. He looked over at her, his mind full of sadness, and shook his head. Then he looked over at the soldier near the door, who was taking care not to show his emotions. I could feel them, though. That guy was boiling mad at her, for my sake, and wanted to come to my defense.
Mr. West pointed at him. “That man could also kill us. He could take that rifle right now and gun us both down. The other soldier could too. Or either one of us could choke the other to death. Having the ability to kill somebody means nothing. Almost every person you have ever met in your life had the ability to kill you. Why are you only afraid of the little girl who saved your daughter’s life?”
It’s okay! I wanted to say. I don’t mind! She can’t help it! Leave her alone!
It was true, too. I didn’t mind. You get used to knowing what people think of you, even if it’s only the general idea. Once you get tired of resenting everyone, you start trying to understand why they think it, instead. And I understood her reasons.
# # #
Sam’s parents never really settled the argument, but it didn’t continue much longer. They worked their way through a difficult evening while I figured out how to do things in this unfamiliar body. I could only walk a few steps at a time, but I could manage a rapid crawl by bedtime. I learned how to sit up on my hind legs, then felt stupid to think about it like it was a big accomplishment.
All things considered, it was a night I would rather forget.
Sam was my hero, even if she didn’t see herself that way. She wouldn’t let me out of her sight. When I had trouble eating, she put me on her lap and fed me, spooning little bits of hamburger steak and mashed potatoes for me. The feelings coming from her were all confused. Most of the time, I couldn’t tell whether she saw me as a baby, a pet, a protector, or a friend, but I was grateful for the help.
That night, Mrs. West wanted to me to sleep in the living room, but Sam wouldn’t hear of it. She all but screamed at her mother, and Mr. West had to step in and rule that I needed to sleep in Sam’s room to do my job. I couldn’t tell exactly what Sam’s reasons were. Her thoughts and feelings were still all mixed up and complicated. I could feel fear and helplessness and worry and concern for me. She thought she needed to protect me. She thought I needed to protect her. She was afraid her mother might do something. No matter how much I tried to think like her, I couldn’t follow all of it.
When I curled up to sleep on her bed it turned into a comedy routine. First, she had me lay down next to her, then had to move me four times until we could both relax. Then, just as she drifted off, she hugged me to her chest like a teddy bear. Sam is pretty grown up for an eighth-grader, and I found this a little suffocating, so I had to wriggle around until I could breathe okay.
That lasted only a short while. I felt something happen in her head, as she woke back up enough to realize this was her best friend she was hugging to her bosom, not a stuffed animal. I saw a flash in her mind, as she imagined holding me in my old body like that. She got all embarrassed, let go of me and flipped over.
I guess I sort of understand what that was about, but I think maybe I’m not the right species to understand for real. All I know is, she was super ashamed about something which hadn’t bothered me at all. I nudged her a couple times until she turned back to face me. She was looking at me all worried, so I just curled up and reached out to take her hand. Actually, all I could take was a finger, but I wanted to make her feel better, and that seemed to do it. We went to sleep like that, holding hands. Or fingers.