Sunshine and the Sphere: Part One
Rae opened the front door to his house with uncharacteristic stealth. It creaked faintly, and the red Kougra froze, listening. The house remained silent. Letting his breath out, Rae slipped into the pitch-black entrance and eased the door closed.
Everything was dark. This was normal, considering it was some time after midnight. Rae knew that if he got caught coming home at this hour, and in this state, he’d be grounded for the rest of his life. No, technically not true. He was too old to be grounded. His aunt would think up something equally evil and perverted, though, like cooking duty. That’s why he had to move quietly and quickly. First to the bathroom to clean himself up a bit, and then back to bed. He tiptoed along the hall, treading with every ounce of stealth in his body, scarcely daring to breathe.
It was at that inopportune moment that the huge Grandfather clock in the hallway struck one. Rae nearly jumped out of his skin and had to clamp his teeth together to stop the scream of surprise. The toll was loud and hung in the air for a long time, but Rae didn’t dare let his breath out until it was completely gone. The house remained silent.
The red Kougra gave a quiet sigh and continued towards the stairway that hugged the left side of the room.
“And where exactly have you been, Raeden Lithlock?”
Rae froze and flinched. Slowly and with rising dread he turned around. A candle was lit, illuminating the room, and Rae found himself blinking at a very large and very angry blue Yurble in a dressing gown.
The Kougra forced a weak smile. “Oh, good morning, Miss Bronton. I, uh, didn’t know you were still up.”
“Where,” the Yurble repeated coldly, “have you been?”
Rae felt his face grow hot and he self-consciously stuck his paws into his jacket pockets. “I... uh, couldn’t sleep, and I decided to go for a quick walk. I didn’t mean to wake you up, Miss Bronton. Sorry.”
Bronton narrowed her black eyes. “Show me your paws.”
Rae grimaced and guiltily took his paws out of his pockets, holding them out for Bronton to see. They were covered in dirt and mud. The blue Yurble sniffed triumphantly and raised her candle, illuminating the rest of the tall Kougra. Dirt was smeared over his face, arms and clothes. “And I suppose you fell over again, hmm?”
Rae tried to smile. “Uh, yeah.”
Bronton glowered at him. “I’m going to give you a chance to explain yourself, young man. Where were you, and what were you doing?”
Rae looked at his feet and shook his head. “I... I went for a walk, and I fell over.” He flinched, knowing what was coming.
“I’d ground you, except you’re too old.”
“Yeah. I thought so.”
Bronton’s face darkened as she regarded the Kougra. “Listen, Raeden, I don’t like that attitude. If your mother were here...”
“Yeah, well, she isn’t.” Rae clamped his mouth shut. That had come out louder than he had intended. He could hear the faint sounds of pets stirring above him. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “She’s not. She left, and she’s not coming back. And even if she did, I doubt she’d care about how late I stay out.” Rae’s face twitched slightly, but the shadows masked it.
Bronton frowned. “That’s exactly why I’m doing this, Raeden. I’m your aunt. In the absence of your mother, you’ll be answering to me. So now, tell me; where were you?”
Rae gritted his teeth but kept his tone civil. “I told you, Miss Bronton, I went for a walk.”
Rae jumped at the sound of the quiet voice behind him. Standing at the top of the stairway was a small, pretty island Kougra, wrapped in an old dressing gown and blinking sleep out of her eyes. Rae flinched slightly; he hadn’t realized how loud they had been. “Hi, Emie. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
She smiled gently, but there was a tinge of sadness in her eyes. “You’ve been out again, haven’t you, Rae?”
Bronton answered before the Kougra could. “Yes, he has been. And he refuses to tell me where he goes to get so dirty.”
Emie strode down the stairs and stood next to Rae. “It’s late, Betty, and we’re all really tired. Can you talk about this tomorrow?”
Bronton sighed and nodded. “Go and get yourself cleaned up, Raeden. You go back to bed, Emily. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Betty.” Emie smiled and nodded. Rae looked at the ground. Bronton took a last look at them and with a particularly loud ‘hmph’, strode up the stairs and to her room. Emie glanced at Rae and the Kougra closed his eyes, expecting another cross-questioning.
“Come on, Rae. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
The red Kougra opened his eyes and smiled in relief. Emie took his paw and led him up the stairs. Emie was his best friend; they could understand each other. Both were parentless- Rae had only ever known his mother, who had left him two years previously. Emie was an orphan. They looked out for each other.
Emie pushed open the bathroom door and began running some hot water into the sink. She then fished a towel out of one of the cupboards as Rae dunked his head into the water.
“Your aunt was really worried, you know,” she said gently.
Rae snatched the towel out of her paws moodily. His disagreement with Bronton had left a sour taste in his mouth, and he didn’t feel like being lectured. “And you think I’m an ungrateful wretch?”
“No!” Emie frowned in concern. “I didn’t mean it like that, Rae. I just wish you could trust her a bit more. She cares about you. A lot. Why else would she wait up for you?”
Rae dunked the towel into the water and began washing the dirt off of his paws. He sighed. “I’m sorry, Emie. I didn’t mean to get angry.”
Emie smiled and handed him another dry towel. “It’s okay. I’ll get you some clean clothes.”
Rae nodded his thanks as his friend left, and dried his face and paws. Emie was everything he wasn’t. She was patient, kind, sympathetic. She never complained about her hectic job, or her lack of money, or even his aunt, crabby old Miss Bronton. He’d always been fond of her, and she’d always looked up to him. And now he had to keep secrets from her.
The door opened and Emie came in, still smiling, and carrying a pair of pyjamas folded neatly. Rae picked them up in surprise. “Since when have I ever folded up my clothes?”
Emie grinned and shrugged. “Well, you’ve been really busy lately, and staying up so late... anyway, you haven’t had much time to look after yourself, so I thought I might as well do your washing for you.”
“Thanks, Emie, I really appreciate it.”
The small island Kougra beamed with pleasure and left the room. Rae shook his head in amazement, and quickly changed out of his dirty clothes and into the pajamas. They were soft and smelt faintly of lavender, two things they never would have been if he’d washed them. He then snuffed out the candle in the lamp and left the room quietly. A shadow in the hallway moved and Emie appeared at his side. Rae smiled at her.
“I thought you were going to bed.”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“I thought so. Alright, come on in.” Rae opened to door to his bedroom and let Emie enter. Just like all of the other rooms in his aunt’s house, it was simple, small and mostly empty. A bed sat in one corner next to the small window. Beside it was a desk with some paper and pens, and a wooden chair sat in a corner beside the cupboard. Rae sat down on his bed and waited for Emie to begin.
The island Kougra sighed and sat down next to him. Even sitting, she only just came up to his shoulder. “I’m worried about you, Rae.”
“Well, don’t be. I’m fine. Really.”
“Please, just tell me; where do you go at night?”
Rae looked at her beseeching eyes, but could only shake his head. “I... went for a walk.”
Emie sighed. “Don’t you trust me? We’ve known each other for years. You can tell me anything. We’ve never had secrets before now.”
Rae looked at his feet guiltily. “I know, Emie. If I could tell you, I would; but I can’t. Not just yet, anyway.”
Emie’s face twitched and Rae could see she was on the verge of tears. “I’m just so worried about you. You work all day at that shop. You hardly eat anything when you get home, and then you get up in the middle of the night and go goodness knows where, and come back in the early hours of the morning covered in mud. This is the third time this week, Rae. You could be burying corpses for all I know.”
Rae smiled despite himself. “No, I promise you it’s nothing as bad as that. Don’t worry about me, Emie. I can look after myself. Really. I’ll be fine.”
Someone in the room next to them banged on the wall and a groggy voice called out. “Can you keep it down in there? Some people are trying to sleep, you know!”
“Sorry, Jarred,” Rae and Elle chimed together.
“I’d better go,” Elle said regretfully. “Just stay safe, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Sure.” Rae raised a paw in goodbye as his friend left. Snuffing out the candle he lay down and tried to think, but exhaustion soon claimed him and he fell asleep.
To be continued...