He had started taking these walks shortly after he arrived at the school. The decision to apply for the coaching position at this particular edifice of education was influenced in large part by the location, middle of nowhere Canada, and the size of the grounds, bloody huge. He had been exploring the furthest reaches when he had the time, and to date had yet to meet anyone further than a mile or two from the main buildings. While he knew the students were busy with their classes, he thought it a pity that they were ignoring the natural beauty around them.
Expecting another afternoon of bird song and wind, he was quite surprised to hear music coming from the direction of the lake. Either some hiker was very, very lost, or one of the school residents had some unacknowledged musical talent. And he knew it could not be the school music teacher, because he had had the misfortune to hear her sing the other day. Just thinking about it made him shudder.
No, whoever was playing was quite talented. He had heard very few these days who could coax such a skillful tune from panpipes, which he was fairly certain was the source of the sound. In his years of travel around the world, he had heard a lot of musicians, so he knew what he was saying when he pronounced this musician talented.
There was something familiar about the tune, the notes niggling around the edges of his mind. Drawn onward, he stepped up his pace, feeling an urgency to meet this musician. He was hoping for a new friend, or at least a new conversationalist. As fond as he was of baseball and women, there was more to life than analyzing old games and flirting. Music was his second love, or perhaps third would be more accurate, if flirting was his second. Either way, someone knowledgeable on the subject would make the rest of the year much more pleasant.
It took longer to reach the lake than he had thought, given how clear the music was, but he was used to odd sound cues like that from time to time. When he finally broke through the tree line, he spotted a figure perched on an outcropping of rocks on the lake shore. Even dressed in sturdy pants and hiking boots, she looked very much like a naiad who had hopped up on shore to play. Or perhaps, with her long hair blowing in the wind, she was an air sprite who had settled to earth for a moment or two. It was a stunning image.
She heard the approach of footsteps through the woods, and was amused when they seemed to match themselves to the tempo of her music. She did not stop playing, but rather continued to savor the variations she was playing on a favorite theme. She knew whoever was coming was still some ways away, despite the clarity of the steps. As she played, a corner of her mind pointed out she might want to be worried. After all, she was alone in the middle of nowhere with a stranger approaching. Yet her mother had trained her well in defensive magics and her father in defensive action, when they had paid any attention to her at all. When they were not, she had wandered the woods surrounding their farm for years without danger. She found herself unable to worry.
Instead, she continued to play until she heard her listener stop at the base of the rock outcropping upon which she perched. Only then did she let the tune weave to a smooth end. Even still, she did not turn to her visitor, taking a moment of silence to savor the wind in her hair and the memory of the music. There were several minutes of silence before, eyes still fixed on the far side of the lake, she said, “Good afternoon.”
He was impressed with her air of confidence and peace, both while she was playing and after. Watching her profile, he saw she was still staring off across the lake, a distant look in her eyes that had him wondering if she was in some kind of trance. He was torn between speaking and leaving quietly, not wanting to disturb her personal mediations more than he already had, when she spoke. Her voice was as musical as her pipes, even in such a short statement. He found himself enchanted even as he recognized she was clearly a student and thus too young. Sadly, he did not recognize her from any of his classes, and so could not put a name with the well-tanned face and reddish blonde locks before him.
It took him several moments of contemplation to realize he had not responded. With a slight mental kick he replied, “Good afternoon.” He did not expect her reaction.
For a moment she wondered if her visitor was still present, as there was no reply. But then a voice came, one surprisingly familiar. In shock and delight, her head snapped around and for the first time she actually looked at the man who stood looking up at her. Her jaw dropped at the familiar jaw and black locks, and it took her several moments to recover enough to gush, “Oh my, you’re Jack Daw. You’re really him. My all time favorite baseball player, and you’re right here…” Her voice finally cut off in a squeak and she could have kicked herself. There went her chance to make a good impression. He probably heard crap like that all the time.
Jack didn’t know what to make of the fact that this young woman seemed to recognize his voice before his face. Sure, as an international baseball star who had played in almost as many countries as there were teams, he was used to being recognized on the street corner. But he did more photo shoots than sound bites and few could recognize his voice so quickly. Also, that he was coaching here this year had been the gossip of the school for over a month, which left him also wondering why this student seemed so surprised to see him. However, he could not restrain a chuckle at her verbal reaction. Talk about variations on a theme and been there, done that.
Slapping a friendly grin across his face, as opposed to any of his twenty or so patented ‘make the girl melt at ten paces’ smiles, he replied, “Aye, that would be me. Always a pleasure to meet a fan, Miss….” He trickled off, hoping for a name to go with the music.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she began with a rather pretty blush. “Yvette … Yvette Fraiser … It’s just that my father practically raised me on your playing. I don’t think I’ve missed a game in the last ten years, even if I had to stay up all night.”
That rather confused Jack. Not that she had been raised on his playing -- while he usually tried to ignore the actual length of his career, it could be measured in multiples of decades. No, what bothered him was that he knew perfectly well that most of the teams he had played on for the last ten years had rarely been broadcast in the Americas, being of very little account in the world scheme of baseball. Of course, he had done is best to improve those standings, if only to get back at all the teams that had blackballed him over the years, but he hadn’t managed to stay on any team long enough to improve things that much. For some reason he kept having personality conflicts with the coaches and players. He wasn’t quite sure what the problem was … well, most of the time … but it was a problem that had plagued his career since day one.
“Well then, Yvette, I’m impressed. I didn’t know some of those games had been broadcast around here,” he commented.
Yvette remembered how devastated she had been ten years ago when Jack Daw transferred to Transylvania, horrified that she might never hear another game with him in it. “I spent a lot of time adding reception enhancing runes to my wireless,” she admitted. Talking her parents into getting her a portable that year had been a life saver. It had opened up a new world, which she had been able to take with her no matter where she went or what she had to be doing … or how much or little attention her parents were paying to her this week.
Jack felt the urge to raise an eyebrow, but restrained himself. He was trying to make a good impression and didn’t want her to think he didn’t believe her. The problem was, he didn’t. All the enhancing runes in the world would not improve a wireless of any kind enough that it could get reception from small stations on the other side of the world. How could she have possibly heard those games?
“Then you must be as adept at your runes as you are at playing the pipes,” was the reply he decided upon. Politic and flattering, he was pleased when it brought another hint of color to her cheeks. It was a look that he decided suited her, bringing out the green in her eyes. “Where did you learn such skills? Certainly not from the Mrs. Abernathy…”
Yvette cut him off with a laugh. Oh, she had originally signed up to take music, but after ten minutes with the delightful Mrs. Abernathy she had decided that such classes were only going to induce insanity. “Oh no, never. Given the reputation here, I was absolutely appalled when I learned the state of their music program. No, my father taught me, practically raised me with a flute at his lips.”
“I’m surprised your father hasn’t complained or found you a better program over the years, then,” Jack commented. Someone who could teach music like that would surely ensure their child would be able to continue advancing at school … yet she looked slightly upset at the comment.
Yvette felt herself color again, but this time it was more frustrating than embarrassing. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m only here for the year,” she said, her eyes fixed on her lap for the first time since his arrival. Her fingers traced the pattern of vines carved into the panpipes she held, trying to distract herself. That she was only there for the year was something she was rather ashamed of. It had certainly left her stuck outside the cliques of students her own age, their bonds having formed over the years spent together at this school. Everyone knew everyone, and she knew no one.
“I’m surprised your parents transferred you for the year,” Jack said, continuing to dig, though he could see how uncomfortable she was. There was something about this girl that intrigued him, and he wanted to understand, and help. “Most parents seem to want consistency when facing the A levels. It must be hard facing them in a new place.”
You have no idea, Yvette thought to herself, weighing the options she had for replies. She finally settled on the truth, not wanting to lie or sidestep as she had with her classmates. Not with her idol.
“Actually, I asked to come. I was home schooled all my life. My parents’ farm is pretty out of the way, and they needed my help to keep things running.” Okay, most of the truth. She was not ready to admit everything about her family to what was essentially a stranger, no matter how cute or famous he was. “I had to beg pretty hard to get this year to be able to take the A levels … in a structured environment.” She cut herself off before she could say ‘at all,’ instead inserting a more politic ending to the sentence.
It had taken three years of concerted effort to get this year at an actual school, plus extra guilt tactics whenever her parents came back from their random little tête-à-têtes. They usually felt guilty after vanishing, usually without warning, for a week or more, and she had long ago learned to use that guilt to her advantage. The little luxuries in life, like a portable wireless, a boost to her book or music collection, or even a pet, were much easier to get right after one of those trips. Even so, it had taken a long build up of guilt to get her parents to let her the hell off the farm for more than a day.
Jack sensed there was something more to the story, and that Yvette was definitely editing herself, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
“Well, I’m sorry the music program turned out to be a bust. I’d offer to help, but while music fascinates me, I can’t come close to the level of you or your father.” He paused for the moment as the compliment sunk in. “At least, I’m assuming your father is at least half as talented as you are, to have trained you so.”
At his compliment, Yvette transferred her gaze from her lap back to his face, a shy smile on her lips. She knew she played pretty well, but to hear it from someone other than her family brought a warmth to her heart unlike any she had ever known. “Well, thank you. But mon père is much better than I am. He can play any wind instrument, and make most of them. I’ve never been able to master the bagpipes.”
This time Jack’s eyebrow did take off. There were very few in the music world with that breadth of repertoire, and the only on he could think of from the area had vanished from the spotlight about twenty years ago. Come to think of it, James was a Fraiser …. No. Couldn’t be…
“The bagpipes are notoriously difficult to master. But if you can play most anything else as well as you can play those panpipes, I’d say you rank up there with some of the best in the world. If your father is better, I’m surprised he isn’t out there playing.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. He has always seemed pretty happy on the farm,” Yvette replied, but even she could tell how uncertain she sounded. She had never understood her parents’ motivations for anything.
“Perhaps he is now,” Jack said thoughtfully. “A wife and child can change one’s interests.” He felt a perfect opening to find out if this was the daughter of his old friend and hurried forward to take it. “For example, I knew a man once, a Fraiser in fact, who was an incredibly talented musician. He was making a hell of a name for himself in Canada and about ready to move beyond when he met a woman and vanished from sight.” He grinned, watching the suspicion build in her face. In an offhand manner, he continued, “He made the most beautiful instruments in his spare time too. Like this one.” Out from under his shirt he pulled the ocarina James had made him all those years ago. He wore it most days on a leather thong about his neck, the brown of the leather a small accent to the rich swirls of blue that were painted on the ceramic. Holding it out to her, he quite intentionally turned it so that the small mark that James used to sign his instruments was visible to Yvette.
Yvette looked at the small ocarina, taking in the beautiful colors, and had reached out a hand to take it for closer observation when she noticed the small mark. Her hand dropped back to her own pipes as the blood drained from her face. She quickly turned the pipes over and showed to Jack the mark on the longest pipe where her father had signed his work. It was identical to the one on the ocarina.
In shock, she did nothing to stop the run of words that followed. This was no longer a stranger or a man to be hero worshiped. He was a family friend, someone who might know all the things her parents refused to tell her.
“You knew him, my father? How well did you know him? Does he have family? Other friends? What about my mother? Do you know anything about her?” She stood, struggling to maintain her balance and yet get down the rock outcropping as fast as possible. She had to get closer to this man who might know. “They won’t tell me anything. Just that the world is dangerous. I’m sick of hearing that the farm is safe. It’s not safe. It’s bloody boring. I never want to go back.”
Jack had hoped to spark some recognition, but he had not expected this. He barely caught her before she went tumbling off the rocks. It was a trick made especially difficult by the fact that she was only an inch or so shorter than himself. Thank goodness he was at least a bit sturdier built.
Even as he caught her, he listened carefully to her words. He had wondered what kind of childhood she must have had from her earlier comments, but now he was doubly concerned. What kind of mess had James made? And also, knowing James, where were her siblings? He had always wanted a passel.
“Hold on there love,” he said when she finally paused enough for him to get a word in edgewise. “I know a bit, but that is no reason to go flinging yourself off rocks. Now take a deep breath and get yourself back under control.” He gripped her shoulder and watched as she tried to take his advice. Poor thing, she was an emotional mess. “Come, walk back to the school with me. I’ll tell you what I can on the way. And you have months left before the end of the year. We’ll see what we can find in terms of other options to going back. Don’t you worry.”
Yvette tried to take his advice, but it was hard. This was actually the longest conversation she had ever had with someone other than her parents, and that realization terrified her. She just didn’t know how to function in normal society, and despaired over ever learning. But his confident tone and promises of assistance helped, and with a nod she consented to head back to the school. It was getting late, and cold, and they had a ways to travel before nightfall.
They walked in silence for a time, Yvette trying to get a hold of herself and Jack trying to dredge his memory for information to give her.
Finally he asked, “Your mother’s name? Yvonne, right?”
“Yes,” she replied, her tone rather quizzical.
“Just checking,” he muttered, going back to his thoughts. A few more minutes passed before he spoke again. “Alright, last I heard from James was about twenty years ago, so this is all a little fuzzy. But as I recall, the reason he vanished is because he ran off with the first daughter of the Canadian Du Pointe family. Are you familiar with the family?”
Yvette thought for a moment, dredging her memory. “I remember a bit from the history books. The French Du Pointe were fairly minor until, with the Dubois and one or two other families, they survived the Revolution fairly unharmed and were instrumental in rebuilding France … ummm.” That was all good, but he had asked about the Canadian Du Pointes. “The Canadian branch came over back when we were a French colony. I don’t recall them ever amounting to much of anything outside of Quebec.”
Jack nodded his approval. It was good to see that she had the background learning, if not the practical experience. “Correct. That is something that has always galled the matriarchs of the Canadian Du Pointes. So they finally fixed to marry one of their own to the heir of the French branch as a means of improving their stature in the old country if not the new world. Problem was, she went and ran off with a nobody musician and hasn’t been seen since. It was the gossip story of the decade, though not many made the connection with James Fraiser, so names weren’t being named.
“Now I did some research, and found James had gotten married and run off to the middle of nowhere, and put two and two together a long time ago. But I never knew they had kids.”
Yvette thought over what Jack had said, it all making rather a lot of sense. Especially in relation to what her mother told her when she once asked why she had no siblings. “Just one kid,” she said softly. “And they never even meant to have me.” Her voice choked up at that point, tears beginning to run down her face.
Jack pulled her lightly to a stop and slipped his hands to either side of her face. He tilted her head so she was looking at him, brushing the tears away with his thumbs. “There now, love. What on earth would make you say that?”
“Mère … she told me … I asked why I never had brothers or sisters … they sure messed around enough … she said … they never intended to have me … that the world was a horrible place, who would want to force a child to exist in it.”
Jack couldn’t stand the pain in her face at that point. He pulled her in close, tucking her head on his shoulder and wrapping his arms about her. In other circumstances, he would find this a very appealing position indeed. But not today, not with her. This girl wasn’t just another pair of long legs topped by a pretty face. He could feel it in his bones. So he stroked her hair and made soothing noises as he tried to come up with a reply.
“Hush there, love. That sounds harsh, I know, but she was trying to protect herself, and you.” He didn’t know if what he said was true, but it fit the facts, and that is what she needed right now. “Having you was probably her saving grace. Without a child, she still might have been suitable for their plans, your mother’s family’s plans. But with a child, it would be harder to make her appear acceptable for those stodgy types back in France … But at the same time, your existence makes you a possible target for those same types. Could be for revenge. Could be as a new bride. But she wanted you to be safe from the life she had never wanted to lead.
“To her, the world is a horrible place. But it doesn’t have to be for you. Hush, love. I won’t let it be for you.” He found himself meaning every word he said with unexpected fervor. He wasn’t sure why he was so determined to keep this young woman close to him, but he was. She almost felt … ah, she almost felt like the daughter he had never had, could never have, and that both terrified and delighted him, as fast as the feeling had come
When her sobs slowed, she started to pull away, and he let her. A corner of her mind was still terrified, but most of her felt strangely at peace. There was something about this man that was completely comforting. It seemed completely counter to everything she had heard about him, his flirting tendencies and wild lifestyle, but she liked it. For the first time in her life, someone was promising to take care of her, to help her, and she liked it.
Brushing ineffectively at her tear stained face, she looked up at him, a half smile on her face. “Thank you,” she said softly. Uncertainly, she reached out and took his hand. At his welcoming smile, she gripped it tightly and turned back to the path.
Jack was amazed at her resilience, but he didn’t want to push anything too much further tonight. The poor girl had to be exhausted after that emotional outbreak. But maybe he could giver her one bit of good news.
“Now one good thing is, I remember meeting your father’s sister, which means you have an aunt. Tomorrow, I’ll see if I can’t put things in motion to locate her.”
Yvette looked up at him, joy shinning in her eyes. She had lost all hope of having a family beyond her parents a moment ago, but now he had given it back to her. An aunt?
“Oh, Jack, that would be wonderful. Thank you so much.”
Jack grinned back at her, delighted by the joy he could see radiating from her eyes. “My pleasure, love,” he said, giving her hand a light squeeze. Good news given, he decided the best thing to do for now was soundly change the subject.
“So, knowing who taught you, you must have a sound musical background. Who is your favorite Baroque composer?”
She laughed and allowed the conversation to turn to more cheerful topics. They discussed their favorite composers of old, and bands of new, debated the worth of different kinds of music, and discovered a shared like for a New England folk band called Schooner Faire. The journey back to the school passed quickly and lightly.
There was no one in sight when they reached the school steps, which left Jack all the more surprised when Yvette stopped at the base of the stairs and pulled her panpipes from her pocket.
“Just a moment,” she murmured, turning back to the woods they had just left as she raised the pipes to her lips. As she played, Jack realized it was the same basic tune she had been playing at the lake, but without the variations and embellishments. He also finally recognized where he had heard it before. In fact, it explained rather a lot.
His ocarina slipped easily into his hand and he played a soft descant to her melody. Yvette clearly approved, for she played the tune through a second time, letting him play with her all the way through the piece. The two instruments blended together beautifully and one might think the two musicians had been practicing for weeks. Yvette thought it was simply amazing. Jack knew it was due to extensive familiarity with the tune.
When the pipes finally dropped from her lips and were returned to her pocket, he let his ocarina rest back against his chest and reclaimed her hand. “Do you know where you learned that song?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. I feel almost as though I’ve always known it.”
“And you often feel compelled to play, especially when heading outside or inside, don’t you?” His eyes bored into hers as his heart filled with amazement at this discovery. He had so much to tell her now.
“How do you know that?” she asked, confusion present in her voice.
“The same way I know exactly where you learned that song,” he said with a wry grin. His grip on her hand firm, he lead her into the main building, their little tribute complete. “I’ll explain, but not out in the open. Come, I’ll get us some supper and we can discuss it while we eat. You must be starving after that walk.”
He worked hard to make his tone relaxed and welcoming, well aware of what interpretation she might take of his offer. Fortunately for him, she considered what she had heard, compared it with what she had seen from him that day, and nodded. If he wanted someone in his bed, there were prettier people at the school and ones easier to seduce. Even if that was his intention, which she doubted.
“Thank you,” he said softly, and then led her toward the kitchen.
The cook, amusingly enough named Martha Cook, was a plump matronly woman who had quickly adopted Jack when he arrived at the school. She bustled over to them as soon as she spotted his black hair in the kitchen door. “Jack, lad, what are you doing down here this time of day? Dinner’ll be ready in half an hour. Surely you can wait that long?”
Jack chuckled as she wrapped her arms about him in a quick hug, returning the action quickly before she could bustle off again. Even as he opened his mouth to reply she turned back toward the oven and yelled, “Mazie, get that bread out of the oven before it burns even more. I can smell it from here.”
“Martha, darling, I’m sorry to intrude,” Jack said apologetically as soon as Martha turned back to him. “I was hoping to grab something for Yvette and myself. Turns out she is the daughter of an old friend and we were hoping to catch up in peace.”
“Oh, aye, that makes sense. The great hall is no place for a quiet conversation, all those chatterboxes.” A sudden crash made Yvette jump and Martha turn towards the store rooms. “Martin, the tapioca powder is on the third shelf, not the sixth,” Martha screamed across the room. “Get it, and fix that mess up after. Get moving.”
Yvette didn’t know what to make of this woman, and was confused by the mad bustle that controlled the kitchen just before meal time. So she stuck close to Jack, practically hiding behind him. Jack squeezed her hand gently to encourage her. He had come down to the kitchen all hours before, and it always seemed to be in this state of controlled chaos. He was convinced Martha had some kind of obscure gift to keep track of everything the way she did.
“Sorry about that,” Martha finally said once she was certain Martin was actually doing as she asked. “Look, we don’t have anything big ready yet, but I could get you a small tray for starters and send someone up in the next hour with the rest.”
“That would be perfect, Martha. You are too good to me.” Jack laid it on thick, his grin designed to set a flutter to any woman’s heart. There was a noticeable change in the room’s sound, as though every woman in the room had just simultaneously sighed appreciatively. Yvette, hiding behind Jack, did not understand what had happened, but it was clear Martha was no less affected than her girls, fanning herself with a corner of her apron and picking up a bit of a flush.
“My boy, none of that,” she said with a grin and patted him on the arm. “I’d best get you out of here or we’ll never get everything done on time. But come back and visit when things are a little less crazy, and feel free to bring the lass with you.” She gave him another pat on the arm, and then reached around him to give Yvette the same treatment. As soon as she was a foot away, however, the bellowing began again. An additional flurry of action soon resulted in a young woman shoving a tray into Jack’s arms with a shy yet suggestive grin. Jack responded with a wink before guiding Yvette back out of the kitchen and toward the stairs that led to the teachers’ wing.
Jack grinned for a moment, sniffing appreciatively at the delightful smells that wafted from the covered tray in his hands. “Oh, fresh cranberry bread and raspberry jam,” he cooed. “Martha knows me all to well.”
Yvette looked up at him quizzically, wondering why he was so excited about something that was served in the great hall every week or so, but before she could ask they were interrupted.
“Mr. Daw, what on Earth do you think you are doing?” came the brazen cry from down the hall. Looking toward the source, both Jack and Yvette identified the approaching figure as Gregory Gregornio, the school headmaster. Jack sighed and rolled his eyes, while Yvette shuffled a little closer to Jack.
“Miss Fraiser and I just thought we would have a bit of a sup in private, catch up on old times …” Jack began, knowing exactly where this was going. He was cut off before he could fully explain.
“I have told you time and again that I will not permit your philandering ways in this school, and especially not with the students,” the headmaster said in an overly officious voice.
“Here now,” Jack exclaimed, quite frustrated with the headmaster’s lack of trust, even as Yvette let out a squeak of surprise. He slipped his hand from Yvette’s tight grasp and handed her the covered tray from the kitchen. “Hold this a moment, love. Mr. Gregornio and I need to speak.” That said, he grabbed the headmaster by the arm and dragged the taller man down the hall and around the corner.
“I’d appreciate if you didn’t make such aspirations about my character, let alone in front of the students,” Jack snapped softly once he figured they were a safe distance from Yvette. Or at least what might appear a safe distance. If he was right, she could hear them wherever they went.
The headmaster, who had turned red at being manhandled by his head coach, yelled back, “How dare you correct me. I didn’t have to hire you…”
Jack cut him off with a shake of his head and a raised hand, secretly rather amused by how easily he seemed to be able to control the officious man. “If you didn’t trust me around the students, why the hell did you hire me?” he asked, but continued before the other man could answer. “Don’t answer that, I doubt I want to know. But know this, I have never, and will never, take someone underage to my bed, willing or unwilling. I don’t care what you think of me, but I do wish you would have some faith in my common sense.”
Mr. Gregornio cut Jack off with a laugh. “Don’t lie to me, boy,” he snapped, apparently unwilling to realize that Jack was easily his age or older. Ah, the joys of the playboy lifestyle. “Everyone knows perfectly well you not only have bedded underage girls, but that you have gotten them with child as well.”
Jack let out a deep sigh before he responded. “Always knew that one was going to come back and bite me.” Jack saw the look of anticipation in the headmaster’s eyes. “But not in the way you think. Poor girl got knocked up by her boyfriend, and her parents put her out on her ear as soon as she confessed. I don’t know what drew her to try and pin it on me, probably hoped I don’t recognize all the faces the next day, let alone four months later. Either way, would you rather I had left the girl and the babe to die on the streets?” Jack ran his fingers through his hair, unable to express how disgusted the situation made him.
“I accepted paternal responsibility because it meant there would be no questions about the money I gave her, full support for the child and enough to get her through school. She did right well by herself too. The child is a strapping lad of six, and she is well on her way to becoming one of the best doctors in the British Isles, if not the world. You could ask her yourself if you want, I’d be happy to provide contact information. Hell, my name isn’t even on the birth certificate.”
Well, that may have just done it. The egotistical headmaster actually looked flummoxed. “Now, as for Miss Frasier, we met out by the lake and I get the distinct impression that she has fallen through the cracks of your so vaunted social experiment. It didn’t take five minutes for me to figure out her childhood was cockeyed and her parents emotionally abusive. Which begs the question why your precious shrink hasn’t been doing anything to help her with her complete lack of social grace and emotional trauma? I bet she doesn’t have a single friend in the student body. Did none of your teachers notice her?
Ah, that did it. An accusation against the high and mighty reputation of this glorious establishment brought the flames of anger to the headmaster’s eyes, but for once they were not directed at Jack.
“What do you think you can do about it?” the headmaster accused. Clearly he had no respect for Jack’s ability to interact with anyone outside of bed.
“Talk to her, learn what I can, and then go talk to your shrink so she can get some help,” Jack snapped back. “Like the responsible teacher you asked me to be when you hired me. Since she isn’t taking any sports, I figured I would have a better chance getting her to open up over dinner.”
“I expect you will be on your best behavior at all times,” Mr. Gregornio said imperiously. Jack nodded, slapping as humble a look on his face as he could manage in his own state of anger and disgust.
“And I will tell Mr. Cartwright to expect your insights tomorrow?” he added.
“But of course,” Jack replied as graciously as he could manage. He had fully intended to contact the school shrink about Yvette at some point. His conversations with the man had engendered some trust as to his competency in treating the students under his care. He just wasn’t sure if Yvette would take to the man at all. Well, time would tell.
“Well then … you had best be off then.” For once, the headmaster sounded positively uncertain, but Jack wasn’t going to quibble about the chance to depart.
“Thank you kindly,” he said lightly, and turned about. He took off down the hallways as quickly as he could without it looking unseemly, he hoped. He certainly didn’t want the headmaster to call him back. He didn’t think he could keep the look of disgust off his face this time.
Yvette had no idea what to make of everything that had just happened. Jack had just abandoned her holding the tray and then … oh, she didn’t think she was meant to overhear what had been said between the headmaster and the head coach. But somehow she had heard every word. Damn her peculiar hearing. And what Jack had said … was that what he really thought of her? That she was just damaged goods to be fixed?
When Jack finally returned, she was standing right where he left her, staring wide eyed at the hallway he had just emerged from. Once close enough, he slipped the tray from her loose grip and put his arm through hers. His grip assured, he led her down the hall, once again aiming to end up in his quarters.
“I’m sorry about that … I fear you probably heard most of that,” he said softly.
His question surprised her and snapped her out of her blank stare. She looked over at him, just in time to end up tripping over the bottom of the stairs. His grip on her arm was all that kept her from falling and she blushed red in embarrassment.
“Sorry,” she whispered, though she wasn’t sure if she meant about tripping or overhearing.
“Not a problem, love,” he said with a wide grin, hoping a friendly face would sooth her. Sadly, she seemed quite determined not to look at him, and kept her eyes on the floor, never catching his expression.
Neither spoke further as they walked the public halls, each lost in their own thoughts until they reached Jack’s room. At the door, Yvette balked for a moment, considering backing out of his dinner offer. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear more about how messed up she was. But Jack caught her rebellious look and gave her no option. He quickly dragged her though the door with a move designed to throw her off balance, then shut the door firmly behind her.
“There now, love,” Jack said, setting the tray on the low table by the fireplace. “Why don’t you have a seat and a snack while I check a few things, and then we’ll talk.” He didn’t giver her a chance to bolt back to the door, leading her over to the loveseat by the table and all but pushing her into it.
Yvette didn’t know what to think as Jack manhandled her about his quarters. Rather than dig into the food on the tray, she watched him as he circled the room. It took her a moment to figure out what he was doing, stopping at all the walls and wall openings, but she finally decided he was reinforcing some kind of rune wall. But which one? It wasn’t until he started oversketching the one over the fireplace that she recognized the pattern. It was a sound deadening rune, a very powerful one. What on earth could he be so afraid of that he needed such powerful runes? A much simpler one would be proof against almost any attempt at eavesdropping. These could even stop wireless transmissions.
For a moment, she even tried to figure out if he had added something else to the rune, for it was making her head feel funny, almost like her ears were full of cotton wool. It was so quiet …
She was distracted from her contemplation of the make up of his runes when Jack flopped bonelessly into the armchair next to the couch. He looked so relaxed and at ease, while she felt so nervous. It didn’t seem fair. When he noticed she hadn’t touched the tray, he shot her an odd look that she could not translate before removing the lid himself.
“Oh, and chocolate sauce too,” he cooed. “Martha has truly gone overboard.” Jack began smearing several slices of bread with a bit of everything provided and thoroughly surprised Yvette when he shoved a plate with several of the slices into her hands.
Rather than try the food, Yvette decided to break the silence. “Did you mean what you said to the headmaster?”
“I said a lot of things to the headmaster,” he replied, leaning back into his chair with his own plate of snacks. “Some I meant, and some I said to get him the hell off my back. Bloody bastard convinced I’ve got nothing better to do than seduce every student in the school.”
“Did you mean what you said to the headmaster about me?” Yvette clarified in a more demanding tone.
“Same answer stands true, love,” he replied lightly. “That you have issues? Yes, you do.” Yvette tried to stand at that, ready to stalk out of the room, but Jack’s hand caught her before she was more than halfway up and pushed her back into the cushions of the love seat. “Let me finish. You’ve got issues, and probably could use some help with them. Who doesn’t. Certainly not me. However, that was not in any way my reason for asking you here. It just made a convenient excuse for the windbag.”
Yvette lost enough of her anger to let out a chuckle at his description of the headmaster. “Like that, do you?” he asked rhetorically. “Me too. I’ve been wondering for months why I accepted this post given how much that man seems to dislike me. Now I think I know.”
Feeling a little more confident, Yvette decided to get some of her own back. “I hope this isn’t the point where you swear your undying love to me,” she said, then took a bite of the bread he had prepared for her. A small moan of delight escaped her lips as the mixed flavor of chocolate and raspberries exploded across her tongue. She quickly shoveled the rest of the slice into her mouth and checked to see how much was left on the tray.
“Oh, so you were hungry after all,” Jack teased. “No, I fear I did tell the truth on that front. You are still a bit young for old Jack, though if you weren’t a student, noises like that might make me change my mind.” He winked at her and took a bite of his own bread.
Yvette wasn’t sure why Jack’s teasing didn’t set her off the way his comments to the headmaster had earlier, but somehow they relaxed her instead. “Good, because I was thinking you’re a bit old to be my first boyfriend,” she teased back, finally relaxing into the couch. Maybe she could get through this evening after all.
“You wound me to the quick, love,” he said overdramatically, tossing his head back and resting his wrist upon his forehead in full melodramatic fashion. “I’m only old enough to be your father. Surely we wouldn’t look that bad together at the school dances?”
Yvette snorted at the image, then felt a bit sad at the thought of school dances. She had never been to a school dance, and it was unlikely she ever would. How would she ever get a date for such a thing?
Determined to change the subject away from such tender topics, she asked, “So what topic did you invite me up here to talk about that you so didn’t want to tell the headmaster about?”
“Your gift,” he replied, and Yvette could only stare at him in confusion.
“My … gift?” she asked, her tone expressing incredulousness and her opinion of his sanity. Sure, she was a good musician, but that wasn’t something she had to hide from the school administration.
Jack sighed. “That wasn’t quite where I meant to begin things. Let me try again. You know that many people in the world have the ability to do magic.” She nodded. Of course she did, she was one of them.
“Magic is a gift that many people have to greater and lesser degrees. But there are other gifts, rarer gifts. How much do you know about these rare gifts?” She shook her head in confusion. “For example, telepathy, or empathy?” he offered.
“I know one is the ability to hear and/or transmit words and thoughts and the other to feel and/or transmit emotions. Though I can assure you I can do neither,” Yvette replied, her disbelief still prevalent in her tone.
“I never thought otherwise,” he assured her. “But those are just two examples. Another would be healing with nothing but personal energy. The girl I mentioned to Mr. Gregornio? She can.”
Yvette could only shake her head in surprise. She had never heard of such a thing. “That is why she is going to be such a good doctor?”
“Exactly,” Jack agreed. “She can do things all the spells and technology in the world can’t touch. It’s actually rather amazing to see.” Jack’s expression was a bit sad, even as his tone was jubilant. He couldn’t help remembering the time she had tried to help him … and failed. Apparently there were some things even she couldn’t fix.
“How did she figure something like that out?” Yvette asked.
“She got lucky. If the doctor treating her during her pregnancy hadn’t been familiar with the ability, in theory at least, he might not have recognized it in her and she might have gone through her whole life untrained.” Or she might have lost the child from shear mental uncertainty, he added to himself. It had been quite touch and go there for awhile, and learning the cause had be a relief for all parties.
“As I understand it, a lot of rare gifts are identified that way, by someone who happens to know about it. It is unusual for someone to realize what they are capable of themselves.”
“Even something as obvious as telepathy?” Yvette couldn’t help but ask. It seemed liked something someone couldn’t help but notice.
“Even telepathy. From what I have heard, the gifted person will often project or receive without realizing it. It takes someone else complaining about having not actually said anything, or why didn’t they hear what someone else did, before conscious knowledge of the gift occurs.”
“How do you know so much about this?”
Jack nodded. That was the question he had been waiting for. “Because I decided to learn more about rare gifts when I discovered I had one.” Yvette stared at him in amazement. “It is one of the especially rare ones, and I’d appreciate if you never mentioned its existence to anyone else. I’ve never met another windtalker, but if there are anymore out there, I have a pretty good idea why they keep a low profile.”
“What…? Why?” Yvette asked softly, curious despite herself. Why would someone as famous as Jack Daw be making such admissions to her, a nobody? Could he be making something like this up?
“Because, when the gift is strong enough, a windtalker can hear anything the wind hears, which is just about anything not completely deadened by strong runes.”
“Like the ones you just put up?”
“Exactly. It looks paranoid to others, but if you have overheard some of the things I have, you come to understand just how difficult true privacy can be to achieve.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Yvette trying to absorb this amazing thing that Jack had told her, and Jack praying that she would believe him.
Finally, she gathered her thoughts and asked, “How did you figure out you had this gift? And why does it have such a funny name?” She asked the latter as a joke, but Jack didn’t laugh.
“To the former, I’m one of the very rare people who figured out that there was something strange about me. I spent a lot of time working my way through the libraries of California until I figured out what I was and what it meant. Not a tactic I would recommend for most.”
Yvette was intrigued, though she had only his word that most people needed outside assistance to recognize their gifts. However, she really latched onto his mention of California. No one knew where Jack Daw had grown up, though most suggested somewhere in the United States or Canada. Could it really have been California? What a scoop.
“And for the latter, that is the best translation I have. From the books I found, it is a gift unknown in Europe, but well known to the Native American Tribes. Each had their own name, but the consensus on the translation was something along the same lines.”
She finally gave into the urge to ask, “Why are you telling me this?”
Jack looked more serious than she had ever seen him. “Remember when I said most people have to have someone else recognize their gift?” he asked, and Yvette nodded. “I recognized my gift today, in you.”
Yvette could only stare at him in shock, her mind whirling with a confusion she could not express. Her, having one of these rare gifts, a gift so rare nobody had heard of it … impossible. Fortunately for her, she was spared the need to make an immediate response when there came a knock upon the door.
“Stay. Think. I’ll get it,” Jack said, leaving the obviously stunned Yvette on the couch and moving to the door. He wasn’t sure if he should be pleased or upset about the interruption, but when he found one of Martha’s kitchen maids on the other side of the door, bearing a heaping dinner tray, he could not restrain the smile that broke out across his face.
“Thank you, my dear,” he flirted. “Your timing is impeccable. We were just about ready to try cannibalism, but this is a much better option.” He whisked the tray from her hands with a wink, then gently shut the door before the poor girl could gather her wits for a reply.
“So, what have we here?” Jack walked back to the table, set the tray down, and lifted the dome with a flourish. Beneath it he found a fine sampling of salad, roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli, and a fine cut of pot roast. “Ah, Martha is truly determined to spoil us tonight,” he said and quickly divvied the food into two portions. He handed Yvette one plate, only letting go once he was certain her lightly shaking hands were actually grasping the ceramic, and then reclaimed his chair.
Yvette heard his movements, heard his conversation with the serving girl, even heard his comments about dinner, but she did not process any of it. Her brain was busy trying to make sense of his previous pronouncement. She was a windtalker? Someone capable of hearing almost anything in the world?
She wanted to deny it, to charge out of the room and go hide in her bed. And yet … and yet, she could not. It made so much sense once he said it. The way she could always get the station she wanted, the music that played in her dreams, or the conversations she used to overhear between her parents all could be explained. She had always thought she just had good runes and sharp hearing. But …
“How do you know?” she finally asked.
“Hmmm?” he replied, his mouth full of pot roast and his expression quite distracted.
“How do you know I have this gift?” she tried again.
“You, eat,” he said, pushing her plate into her lap and slipping a fork into her hand. “And I will explain.
“How could I not, I suppose is the question I ask myself. But mostly, it was that song. I’ve never found it in any written record, or even verbal one. And I’ve looked all over the world. It came to me one day, fully formed and begging to be played. Once I did, I felt the urging to do so again so often that my family actually worried about me for awhile. They were expressing concern that I had gone mad.” He paused and chuckled, and from the twinkle in his eye, Yvette almost wondered of his family had had the right of it. However, she dropped the thought a moment later when a pointed look turned her focus from his face to her plate. As she began to eat, he continued.
“In the records that I have found about windtalkers, sparse though they are, there are occasional references to something called ‘the gift from the wind,’ which appears to be a song that the wind teaches those who can hear. It is supposed to be played to honor the wind and give thanks for the knowledge that it brings.”
“And this song is the one I have been playing?” Yvette asked.
“Exactly. And in some lovely variations, I might add.”
His words brought a blush to her face. She was not used to compliments about her music. “Thank you,” she replied softly, her eyes fixed on her dinner plate.
For several minutes after that, the only sounds in the room were of metal on ceramic and teeth on food. Distracted as she was, it took Yvette some time to realize just how silent that could be. She could not remember a time when her ears had been this empty. In that moment, she knew for sure that Jack spoke the truth.
“So, what now?” she asked, her tone uncertain still, but there was an undercurrent of acceptance that Jack could pick up on.
“Well, for tonight, we enjoy a lovely dinner,” Jack said, his smile expressing his relief that she had accepted his explanation. “Tomorrow morning I’ll contact a few people and see about finding your aunt. And then … if you permit, we will see what we can do to train this gift of yours.”
Yvette grinned. “Sounds perfect.”