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Chapter 21-

Updated: Jun 8

Manaen Carver was a dangerous man. Unlike most tradesmen, he did not deal in stolen property or drugs of any kind; a principal which had put him on Holsun’s bad side and put his and his wife Elaine’s marksmanship skills to good use.

The boys had been in awe as she’d explained how she knew the Carvers. Manaen’s name was legendary and had earned their immediate respect.

Worried that the boys’ social skills left something to be desired, Siah had explained to them what to expect of a social visit, how to act and react in various situations. The boys had taken to the etiquette lessons better than she would have thought.

They had finished perusing the fifth storage unit just that morning and Nathan had wanted to take some miscellaneous items to trade with, but Siah told him to hold off until asking Manaen what he was interested in trading for first.

He’d taken the advice as if she’d let him in on some sneaky trade secret.

On Thursday night, they were a few minutes early.

Manaen and Elaine were pulling the covers over the display cases behind the counter and looked up suspiciously when she walked in, flanked on either side by the boys and Sharlie.

“Hey guys.” She put her hood down. Elaine gave a loud squeal and ran to her, arms extended, embracing her as only a sister could do. Oh, it had been so long since she’d last had girl time.

*

Eric and Nathan felt their eyes go huge when Mr. Carver came up just then and wrapped Siah in a bear hug just like his wife had. “Woman, we have missed you!” He declared in a booming voice.

“Nice to see you too Manaen.” She choked out when he set her back down.

They froze as Mrs. Carver took their hands.

“Now come on Siah, introduce me to these fine young men I’ve heard so much about.”

What had she called them?

Siah lifted her chin as she gestured to both of them in turn.

“This is Eric and this is Nathan.”

The tall woman smiled at them both before wrapping them each in a bear hug like Siah would. Was this a black woman thing? They reeled back as she suddenly let go and shouted. “Disa, come on down. Ms. Siah and Sharlie are here.”

Siah wrapped a loving hand around Sharlie’s head.

“Sharlie sweetie, do you remember Candice?” It turned out she hadn’t needed to ask. A small, brown face with two puffs of dark hair on either side of her head poked out of the curtain that separated the storefront from the back storage area.

“Sharlie?”

Sharlie’s face lit up at the sight of the other little girl. “Disa!”


They looked kinda cute as they ran to each other and hugged. The little black girl, Candace, took Sharlie by the hand and they ran through the curtain giggling.

“Well come on, lets us all go sit back too.”

“I’ll lock up.” Mr. Carver shouted after them.

Siah followed Elaine as she led them to the curtain. They hung back. That was- where they lived. He and Nathan looked at each other. The only times they’d ever been in someone’s house was when they’d broken in. No one had ever invited them inside- anywhere. This was a first.


“Well come on boys, we ain’t gonna bite.” Mrs. Carver called out to them. Siah smiled and motioned for them to follow. She’d told them all about what to expect but still, this was weird.

They followed the women through the curtain, past the storage area where a bunch of random stuff sat on shelves until they came to a door that Mrs. Carver opened into a living room.

There was a small fire going in the hearth on their right, a small dining table, couch, a few rugs scattered around and a staircase off to the side, the kitchen was a little farther away with only a counter partitioning the space off. All of it seemed- comfortable.

“Elaine, here’s our contribution for dinner.”

Siah reached into her backpack and pulled out two small sacks of stuff she’d brought along. One had instant coffee and freeze dried berries. The other had two boxes of instant mashed potatoes and some dried vegetables. Following Siah’s prearranged cue, the boys put down their backpacks and pulled out what they carried, two gallons of bottled water they’d found in the same unit as the MRE’s and a large filter device about the size of a small bucket that was supposed to make almost any water drinkable.

“Oh Siah!”

“One of the patients at the clinic left us a room full of stuff. This is for you.”

“Well thank you honey! We’re having grilled venison. We’ve gotten plenty in trade the last few days and these potatoes will go great as a side dish.”

So that was why game was so scarce lately.

Siah and Mrs. Carver drifted into the kitchen as they talked. It was weird how different Siah’s face was. She smiled at them all the time, but now, she was- laughing. It was weird how laughing changed her face.

There was something else though, Eric and Nathan looked at each other sideways. They’d always thought of Siah as being Black. But right now, looking at her next to Elaine, the differences between them were stark. No way was Siah, “Black”, not completely anyway.

“Oh boys, just make yourselves at home.” Elaine called. “Manaen will be done in a few minutes and he’d love to be able to some guy time with you two.”

What?

Just then the man himself poked his head into the door behind them just like the little girl a minute before. He checked that Siah and Elaine were in the kitchen before turning his attention to them. “Good, they busy.” He muttered.

“Hey Siah.” He shouted. “I’m talking the boys with me.”

“Okay, have fun sweeties.”

“Honey, food’ll be ready in thirty minutes.”

“Good, I’m starved.”

“C’mon.” He smiled, gesturing for the boys to follow him. He received blank stares in return before the boys glance at each other sideways. Siah had said Mr. Carver would want to take them aside to visit but they hadn’t taken her seriously.

She came up to them just then. “It’s okay boys,” she said quietly as she rubbed their shoulders. “Go have a good time, food’ll be ready in a little bit.”

They hesitated but she smiled and gestured with her chin for them to go. They set their packs against the wall next to Siah’s and slowly followed the man.

They couldn’t believe they were going anywhere with Manaen Carver.

What were they supposed to say?


Seriously, what were they supposed to say?


*

Once Manaen took the boys, Siah and Elaine made some of the coffee she’d brought and she told Elaine everything, leaving out no detail leading up to Holsun’s death, and how peaceful things had been since.

Elaine listened intently, only asking the occasional question. Siah felt no qualms about telling her friend the whole truth. She knew her and Manaen would take her and the boys’ secret to their graves.

Elaine was silent as she processed everything her friend had just told her. Siah studied her coffee intently.

Elaine took her hand. “So what are you gonna do now?”

“’I know what I want to do. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to do it.”

She raised her eyes to Elaine’s.

“I want to adopt the boys.”

Elaine didn’t bat an eye as a slow smile stretched her face.

“You sure about this?”

“Yes.”

Elaine leaned over and hugged her.

“If there’s anything me and Manaen can do to help, you just let us know.”

“Pray Elaine. Pray the boys are receptive to my offer. Pray they’ll be okay with- having a parent and that if they are, that the adoptions go through without a hitch.”

*

The rest of the evening was wonderful. Manaen had taken the boys to see his impressive gun collection, including the indoor shooting range he’d made in the building next door and connected to his shop with a walkway. He enjoyed having an appreciative audience for his collection.

Both boys were still in a daze as they came back in. Manaen had them help him make the little table bigger with some kind of extra pieces he called “leaves” and they all sat down together. He and Nathan couldn’t help feeling weird about the whole thing. Sitting at a real table on actual chairs felt strange, and the Carvers were treating them so casually; the same way Siah had treated them almost since they’d met.

Even their little kid wasn’t acting like any big deal around them. She was sitting across from them, next to Sharlie. She’d stared for about two seconds before shrugging her slim shoulders and chattering with Sharlie. While they ate, she’d just look up at them every few seconds, like she was trying to figure them out for herself. She reminded Eric of Sharlie when they’d first met.

He and Nathan were mostly silent through dinner, only answering questions when they were asked. Siah had been right; this was a lot to take in. Being welcomed was a foreign concept. Manaen filled Siah in on everything he’d shown them. She laughed and thanked him for showing them around.

The night went on like that, with a lot of easy banter that even Sharlie and Candice got into.

This whole family- was as weird as Siah.

When it started to get dark, Mr. Carver gave them a ride home in his new used SUV.

*

It felt weird being in a car again. The last time he and Nathan had been driven anywhere had been when their grandpa had died and their dad had picked them up.

He shook the memory away.

Siah was in the front passenger seat of the old suburban, giving Mr. Carver directions to the apartment. When he pulled to a stop, Siah turned to them. “Eric can you help me out with Sharlie?”

He nodded, tossed his backpack over a shoulder and walked around to the passenger seat where Siah had Sharlie asleep in her arms. Siah handed her off before she stepped down, the little girl snuggling into him right away.

Nathan had come around the SUV and picked up Siah’s duffel bag along with his own while she stepped out of the car.

He glanced at Mr. Carver; he was watching them with a strange look on his face.

Sharlie was still asleep on his shoulder when Mr. Carver rolled down the driver’s side window. “Hey, you boys be okay coming to the trading post sometime?”

“Yeah sure.”

“Good. Just stop in anytime. Be nice to have some other men around.”

They spread their new futons out and talked about the evening while they got ready for bed. While Siah was rubbing the essential oils on them, he and Nathan looked at each other- and felt their mouths turn up a little.

*


The next day they were eating breakfast when Siah told the boys she wanted them to go to the Trading Post and take Sharlie with them.

“Why?”

“I’m making a surprise for you two and I don’t want you to see it until it’s finished.”

What? A memory of the dream vision he’d had brushed across his mind. He and Eric looked at each other sideways- and he knew his brother was thinking the same thing.

“Uh, Okay.” Eric muttered.

She took a note out of a little stationary kit they’d found in one of the storage units and wrote a list of stuff she wanted them to buy/trade for.

He and Eric looked over her shoulder as she wrote.

“Is that cursive?”

“Sure is.” He’d never seen anyone use it before.

“Siah are you sure they’re gonna be able to read that?”

“Elaine knows how to read cursive.”

“She may read cursive, but will she be able to read that.”

“Very funny. So I don’t have the best handwriting. She’ll be able to read it.”

They read the list she handed them as she zipped Sharlie up in her jacket. New clothes for all of them, laundry and/or hand soap, firewood or charcoal, sewing needles and cotton thread. The charcoal was a good idea. Every day now, they had to go further and further into the forest to get good firewood. Buying some good cord wood or charcoal would save them a lot of time.

“Nathan, empty out your duffel bag and take it with you to bring back any supplies you find. Eric, I want you to take all the pasta based MRE’s to trade with while you’re there.”

“Aw!”

“But those are some of the best stuff!”

“No whining. Addictive, low nutrient foods like that are what contributed heavily to the Ruin, it’s the last thing I want any of you kids eating. Let someone else feed their addiction. I won’t have you two on it. Oh and Nathan, add one more thing to the list.”

“What?”

“A new thigh holster for me. I’d prefer one made of fabric. Ask Manaen if they have one in stock, he might have to order it in.”

If Siah got a new Holster, that meant he and Eric could use the leather ones. She smiled at him, and he knew that was exactly what she had in mind. He let himself smile a little.

*

They both did that sideways look at each other again. Honestly, it was like they were twins.

She gave each of them a kiss and hug goodbye, making sure their guns were strapped on correctly. Nathan held Sharlie’s hand as Eric hefted his backpack, full of the MRE pasta packages and Nathans empty duffel bag over a shoulder.

They left, tucking Sharlie’s hood over her head just like theirs. She watched as her entire world, everyone she loved, walked down the street and out of sight.

It was such a relief to have others she felt safe and comfortable enough to leave Sharlie with.

That first day Eric had offered to babysit had been the most amazing, insane answer to prayer she had ever experienced. In that moment she didn’t just feel, she knew that God had been listening to her prayers- that he had not forgotten her.

He had answered her prayers with two violent teenage boys her little girl could intimidate into playing with her.

It was a strange; she loved those boys as much as she had ever loved Sharlie. Sharlie had come to her as a baby; she had been easy to love. The boys were sixteen and thirteen and she’d first met them at the scene of a multiple homicide- where she had watched them do the killing.

It was God alone who had given her the ease she had had with them in those first tense moments and awkward days together. It was him who had allowed her the discernment to see past their rage and fear and shame to clearly see through to two boys who had never had anyone to look out for them. It was Him who was putting love in her heart for them.

Knowing her family would come back safe for lunch; she shut the door and got to work.

*

Siah gathered the silk dresses, oversized wool coats, thread, needles, and scissors into the living room, read her Bible, then knelt, laid hands and prayed over all of it. It had been a long time since she had last made a pattern, but she prayed God would let her hands remember her grandmother’s skill.

She needed to cut apart the dresses and deconstruct the coats she had in mind to resize. The heavy old shears she had found cut through the thick silk with ease. Yea! It was good quality fabric, the kind that had a good drape but was rough to the touch. Yea! It would make for excellent liner.

Lord, please let Elaine and Manaen have found some good clothes for the kids that will actually fit the boys.

While Manaen had taken the boys to show off his collection, she had asked Elaine to keep an eye out for any clothes that might fit them. If there was one thing Elaine loved, it was clothes. Whether it was shopping for them, altering them, or even designing them, Elaine was in her element when it came to all things fashion related.

Telling her to look for clothes for the boys, she may as well have thrown meat to a shark.

She smirked. The boys had no idea what they were in for.

She worked, kneeling and cutting all morning, praying the coats would turn out wwell and not take overlong to put together.

By the time she heard the kids coming up to the door her back was aching but she had finished deconstructing everything. Hurriedly, she stuck all the supplies into the plastic bin she was using for a catch all. She rolled the fabric up in a sheet she had prepared, hefting it down the hall into the back room with the rest of the supplies.

Ever since she’d had the idea to make the boys coats, she had wanted to keep them a surprise, but that was an unrealistic expectation.

She couldn’t send them out every day for the length of time it would take to make the things. She would just not let them see the end result until the first one was complete.

So they would know what she was up to. Living as close quarters as they were that was likely to have happened no matter what.

Besides, she had to take the boys’ measurements. They might not appreciate being measured but they could suck it up. Measuring tape in hand, she walked into the living room in time to see the boys unrolling her futon. Sharlie was asleep on Eric’s shoulder and they were putting her to bed. It snagged her heart how tender they were with her little Huerita.

They really were such sweet boys.

“Hey Siah,” Nathan held up his now full duffel bag. “We got the stuff you wanted, even the charcoal and holster.”

“Great. I’m glad they had some.”

Armed with her measuring tape, she snagged Eric as soon as he rose up off the floor.

“Okay, stick out your arms.”

“What?”

She lifted them both up.

“Keep them like this.” She commanded.

To her surprise, he fully cooperated, staying quiet until she was finished. She measured his arm length from neck to wrist; his waist and chest, shoulders, then turned him around and measured his torso length, biceps, and forearms. She stopped and scribbled each measurement on a piece of paper from the stationary set she’d used earlier.

“That was weird.”

“I’m surprised you cooperated.”

“Only because we know what you’re doing.” He smirked. She repressed a smile at his mimicking her again.

“What?”

To her surprise Nathan was the one to reply.

“You’d packed up all those old clothes, you wanted us to leave so you could make us something… we figured it out. The boy smirked. He was so copying her. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Alright smart guy, your next.”

She couldn’t help smiling to herself as she measured. The boys’ copying her was so adorable.

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why the boys had seemed spooked when she’d told them she wanted to make them something when she felt that same check in her spirit.

Lord, what’s up?

No answer.

She began working on making her pattern out of packing paper while the boys unloaded their bags and Eric told her all about their trip to the trading post.

Lord, let Nathan find his voice someday.

Siah smiled as Eric gave her a play by play of their visit, including that ‘Ms. Elaine’ had had them each try on like, ‘a hundred sets’, of clothes. It was the longest Siah had ever heard him speak. And she had never seen the boys’ eyes so- alive before.

“We gave Mrs. Carver your note right away. She got all excited and took Sharlie in back to play with Candice so me and Nathan could look around at the clothes. Mr. Carver liked the MRE’s a lot and said that if we had any more to bring them over.”

The conversation continued with Eric giving her the cash that was left after paying for their clothing. She breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“This will help with rebuilding my emergency stash. It’s dangerously low.”

The boys both looked proud at her comment. They had every right to be. They had done well. She ruffled Nathans growing hair. Both of them finally had about an inch of growth on their heads, the strands thick and shiny. Nathan didn’t shirk her off him as much as usual. He was certainly in a good mood.

“Um, Siah?” Eric went silent and started spinning his water cup around in his hands. He glanced at Nathan nervously. Why was he nervous?

“Manaen asked if we could come by and help him tomorrow.”

“With what?”

“He needs help fixing a messed up wall in the back storage area. There was a leak in the roof. He’s fixed it but the wall was so damaged it’s starting to rot and he’s going to have to tear it all out and rebuilt it.”

“Or make an entrance to the next room.” Nathan interjected.

“Yeah that.”

“He says it would take a lot less time if he had help.” She glanced up at him.

“Uh, he wanted to know if we could go help him starting tomorrow morning. We could take Sharlie with us. Would you mind?”

Those were the softest words Siah had ever heard him speak. She was touched they were asking her permission.

She smiled. “I think that sounds like a great idea. I’m glad you’re willing to help Mr. Carver out. Just come home for lunch. I’ll have something ready.”

“Okay.”

“We will.”

Though still seated, they looked ready to collapse with relief.

She had them show her their new clothes. They each had several new pairs of pants and shirts along with long underwear and new hoodies. It was such a relief to see them in clothes that fit. They were rugged enough to suit their needs but much nicer than what they’d been used to.

“Oh, Siah.” She jerked her head at Nathans sudden speech. “Manaen told us to tell you he had a new satellite phone. It just came in yesterday. Here’s the number.”

“Wow. Glad to hear it. I’ll ask him if I can use it later. I’d love to call Mason and see how he’s doing in Boulder.

She looked at it and tucked the little piece of paper into her pocket.

A light rain began to fall and Siah was surprised to see the boys unrolling their futons and crawling into bed. Nathan met her eyes suddenly and looked back at her owlishly.

The last thing she wanted was to make the boys feel awkward. She hadn’t intended for naps when it rained to become a regular thing, but, why not? She unrolled her own futon.

“Good nap boys.” She said as she curled up with Sharlie.

“Good nap Siah.” She perked her head up. They had never once said good night back to her. She watched as they both got comfortable.

Siah listened to the slow steady thrum of the rain, the steady breaths of the children around her, the crackling of the fire. It was bliss. Thank you Jesus for sending the boys; for all of this. She let the tears fall down her cheeks.

Thank you. Thank you.

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