8.5

Jessie sat buckled in next to Vortran, staring down at her feet silently as they took off. Vortran was too tired to attempt conversation, and could feel herself drifting off as the engines hummed. She briefly woke up as the gravity changed and they stopped accelerating, and noted that Jessie immediately slunk out of her chair and disappeared into her room. She fell asleep again promptly and was woken up by Sam shaking her shoulders.

“Why don’t you go get some sleep? This trip will be easy.”

“Mmm…” Vortran yawned and unbuckled, sliding to the floor. She dragged herself to Jessie’s room and noticed the door was open and the room was empty. Her makeshift burrow looked amazingly welcoming and she curled up in it to sleep again.

***

Sam found Jessie again in the kitchen, sitting in a chair staring at the empty table.

“Whatcha up to?” He sat across from her and rested his hands on the table. She didn’t look up at him or respond. He waited an awkward few moments before trying again, “What’s up, Jess-a-bell?”

She seemed to stare at the table harder, or maybe he imagined it.

“You feeling ok?” He reached over to feel her forehead and she leaned back.

“I’m fine.” She said. Her tone caught him off guard and he pulled his hand back. This time she was looking at him and did not seem please.

“What’s with the tone then? Are you mad at-” He paused as it clicked, “You’re mad because we left the guy behind. Jess, we had to get going. Your grandma will send someone to get him-”

“He didn’t want to come with us. He was nice and took care of us and then everyone treated him like he was all different and he didn’t want to be around us anymore.”

“Jess, he…” Sam stopped and just looked at her for a moment. He’d always struggled with how much to tell her about reality outside of their cozy bubble, especially when it turned out she was a shifter. He took a deep breath and flattened his hands on the the table. “Yeah, we kinda did.”

The admission seem to take the wind out of her sails and she frowned at him, “Why? Just cause he’s a shifter like me?”

The ‘like me’ stung especially hard and he cringed inwardly, “Sort of… There are some very unpleasant things about the universe I’ve been putting off telling you about until you’re older. Things that make it dangerous to be a shifter if you don’t have someone to look after you.”

“You mean the fights?”

“How did you hear about that?” He tried to keep his expression neutral.

“I heard Mr. Calvin and Jerret mention them, but they wouldn’t say what they were.”

“Yeah… I think you’re still a bit young to hear about those, but that’s exactly what I mean.” He got up and moved around the table to sit next to her, putting an arm around her. It was as much a comfort to him as it was to her. “I think that guy-”

“Mr. Jerret.”

“Yeah. I think he’s had the sort of rough life that makes a person… unpredictable. And it makes people around him nervous because they can’t be sure he won’t snap and hurt someone on accident.” He couldn’t help thinking of the bloodied animal carcass he’d helped carry back.

“But he wouldn’t hurt us, he’s really nice.”

“It’s complicated… I promise I’ll try and be nicer when mother brings him to visit, okay?” He squeezed her arm and she seemed to relax a bit.

“Granny has to be nice too.”

Sam frowned at the implication, “Your grandmother is always nice. Anyway you know who’s station we’re going to?”

Jessie shook her head, looking up at him.

“You remember Julian and his son Kevin?” He grinned as her expression brightened immediately.

“Can we visit the bookstore?” She asked, smiling for the first time since they’d left the planet.

“Of course, I’ll see if we can arrange lunch too.”

“I wanna show Kevin how good I am at fishing now! I can catch way bigger fish than him!”

“I don’t know if they’ll have any big fish in the pond, the station doesn’t stock anything bigger than they can eat.” He mussed her hair and she pushed his hand away, but playfully, “I need to pick up some new books for your aunts anyways.”

Jessie made a face at the mention of books, “Don’t get me any for my birthday. I don’t need more books.”

“I can’t promise there won’t be any books, but I’ll try to make sure it’s not all books.”

“If there’s any books there better be pictures too, of birds.”

“Sweetie your aunts are going to give you boring old word books, it can’t be helped.”

“But I hate reading! It’s hard!”

“It gets easier with practice. How about I make us some tea and we’ll watch a movie or something.” He could see the tantrum brewing behind her eyes and had to hold back a sigh of relief as she relented quickly.

“I want to watch something with singing animals.” She slid out of her chair and rolled under the table, dashing for the console before he could react. He was not looking forward to trying to keep up with her once she wasn’t so tiny. He started the tea and dug around for a couple mugs, only just remembering her favorite one had been destroyed in the explosion. He’d have to try and find a replacement soon, maybe for her birthday.

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