The bakery had quickly come to be one of Cale’s favorite places. For any who knew him longer than five minutes, the reasons were laid out upon the sales counter and sat about the tables. Food and company. Two of his many, many, many favorite things. Rather than drooling over sweets or gabbing incessantly, as was his common communion in such hallowed halls, he held conversation between himself and a piece of paper snatched from Bastion’s study. Somehow, he’d found charcoal. Nice charcoal. Maybe that was cause for concern, given that meant someone was missing theirs, but he didn’t seem to find anything troubling about its presence in his possession. That is, beyond the obvious difficulty he had holding it properly.
With all the intensity of a surgeon, the boy focused long and hard upon every shape pressed into the page:
“Montgom’ry... McCo--y? How d’ya...? LaBlanc... McCoy... --oy? --y --y --y...”
“Ca-- shit. Cale. Cale, Cale, Cale... That damn --y again... Ch--...? Chhhhamp.”
“Got those’uns... An’ sometimes... Y...” “... Hmm.”
“Bill... Jim... Uh... Mark that’n out for now. Can’t... quite ‘member. Got’s six, ‘member that much.”
“Then Beth. How the fuck d’you ‘th’? Thlll? L. ‘Ell.’ Close’nuff.”
“Then me, then Jan, then ain’t nobody else! Oh, ‘cept Mama. ‘less’n she’s--”
There was a moment between words and mutters where Cale blinked at his work. A moment which stretched to a minute. One whole minute. Sixty seconds which he could not count for the life of him. A minute which found him suddenly looking distressed. More and more and more until the charcoal was placed down and his hands came to cross tight over his chest.
Bill. Jimmy. Blond. Freckles. Black shoes. Rusty wagon. Beth. Cale. Jan.
And Mama was pregnant.
Not nine. Ten.
“I want out.” A breathless whimper, lost in the folds of his sweater and chewed upon sleeves. They fell away with a far more pressing cry. “I want out!” Distress fell to despair fell to desperation. In seconds, he was around the table and hovering at his closed anathema.
It was suddenly too hot in the bakery for him to breathe in the smells of sugar and honey. All he could feel was his pulse in his ears. The pulse of someone who he lost the chance to meet. Someone who he never would hold or hush or speak to, someone who might have shared his eyes or his hair. Someone who might have liked dogs or cats or horses or goats or chickens or possums or posteriors, someone who might have wanted to learn how to read and write, someone who might have had the best laugh ever, like Jan did. Someone to love. Someone to take care of. Someone to share life with, and all the wonders it held.
Someone so distant, now, that they were more a stranger than family.
Montgomery. McCoy. Leblanc.
Cale. Just Cale. Just the boy without a last name to hold in his hands, a pile of dirty clothes melted into fitful tears before the door gave way. Just no one. Just Cale.
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