I can smell food when I get out of the shower, and after I’ve pulled on clean clothes I wander out to the kitchen. It’s not surprising to find Owen standing at the stove; he’s been part of the household for as long as I can remember. He’s Uncle Larett’s gardener and cook and all-around handyman, and from watching Uncle Larett and Owen together you’d never guess how much they love each other. It always makes me sad, watching them and knowing they have to be so careful. Uncle Larett won’t just lose his job if they find out that he’s a Deviant, he’ll lose his life. And so will Owen. It doesn’t matter that Uncle Larett is a government official — if anything it’ll just make it that much worse. As if I need more of a reason to hate the government.
“Smells good,” I say, sliding into a chair. Daka’s slouched across the table from me. “What’s for dinner? Please tell me Owen cooked.” I’ve had experience with Uncle Larett’s cooking when Owen’s been away. He burnt the vegetables because he forgot to put water in the pan. Mom insisted on cooking the rest of that visit.
Owen smiles his slow smile at me and says, “Rabbit stew. Mam’s recipe.”
“Daka,” I say, tucking one foot up underneath me, “Owen makes the best damn rabbit stew I’ve ever tasted. And he won’t teach me the recipe.”
“Well,” Owen says, “that’s not quite accurate.” He looks up at Daka and continues, “I offered once, when she was about thirteen. Miss Jo is a bit squeamish.”
“You wanted me to skin the rabbit before teaching me to make the stew,” I object. I distinctly remember this occasion, because I was excited to learn to make something that didn’t involve fish and then Owen came in carrying an incredibly cute and incredibly dead rabbit and asked me if I knew how to skin an animal, and I’d promptly burst into tears and run to find Mom. “It was fluffy and cute and really, really dead. It had nothing to do with the blood.” An image of Mom’s bloody head flashes across my mind and I shiver.
Owen notices and changes the subject. “How long will you be staying with us?”
“I haven’t decided,” I say. Depends on how long it takes me to find the information I need.
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” Uncle Larett says as he comes into the kitchen. He just brushes against Owen as he moves past, nothing that could cause comment, but I notice it because I’m watching for it. “I’m afraid I have quite a lot of work to do at the moment, but I could spare a few mornings and I can probably manage to wrangle it so I can work from home most days, if you like.”
“Actually,” I say quickly, glancing at Daka, “Daka was hoping you might be able to teach him some things.”
“Oh?” Uncle Larett sounds interested. “How so?”
Daka has a trapped expression on his face and looks more than mildly terrified. “Oh,” he says, stalling for time as he clearly tries to remember what we’d talked about on the road here, “I’m interested in getting a job in the city. With the government,” he adds quickly. “In administration, I think. I’m good with figures and with my letters and I think I could be really good in an administration job if I could just get off the boats. But I think that I’d need a lot of experience to get that kind of job. So I thought maybe I could see what you do, since Jo says you’ve got some kind of government job.”
There’s a lot more passion in Daka’s voice than I would have expected, and as I watch him talk it occurs to me that probably he’s been wishing he could get out of Granite for longer than I have. He’s clever, Daka is, but he’s the oldest in his family and has been responsible for them all for years. He must hate the boats. In all the years I’ve known him he’s never complained.
Uncle Larett is looking at Daka with quite a lot more interest than he was earlier. “Well,” he says. “I’d be happy to have you come along if you’re really that interested, although I warn you that quite a lot of my day is dull and there will be some times when I may have to fob you off on someone else for a few hours.”
“That would be fine,” Daka says after a quick glance at me.
“Before you get the wrong idea about him,” I add as Owen sets a bowl of stew down in front of me, “Daka’s not actually really boring. He’d also really like to learn to hunt if you’d be willing to teach him.”
Uncle Larett looks really flattered, and I feel a little guilty at using him like this. I do like him, after all, but I need him out of the way and I can’t think of another way to do it. And I really don’t think he’s likely to just tell me what I want to know. I’m pretty sure he’d get tossed for that and also probably jailed, if he were lucky.
“Well,” Uncle Larett says again. “I’d be happy to teach you. But — ” He turns to me, his eyebrows pinching together. “Jo, I don’t want to feel like I’m abandoning you. If you — ”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I say, digging a spoon into my stew. “I just want to sleep and eat and maybe swim in the lake.” Around a mouthful I add, “And maybe Owen can teach me how to cook.” Yep, way to go me — I’m reinforcing gender stereotypes left, right, and centre here. Daka can go off and hunt and I can stay in and learn to cook. Ick.
It takes a little more convincing, but eventually Uncle Larett must decide that both Daka and I are serious and that I don’t mind if my best friend monopolises my uncle’s time, because he agrees that Daka can go with him into Pendleton in the morning. Meanwhile I’m hoping that Owen will be out of the house most of the day so I’ll have plenty of time to snoop around Uncle Larett’s office. I’m a little nervous about trying to poke around his stuff day after day, because the more I’ve got my nose where it doesn’t belong the more likely I am to get caught, and then that’s one adventure that’s cut off before it’s even began.
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