Message: “Hey pup. Toini’s back. Says she needs you. No joke. P.”
– – –
Toini stared at the message on Paivi’s phone. She stared at her sister. The woman had really gone and done it. The message had been sent and there was no stopping it now. She had to get to Tin Jian – for her own peace of mind. Poor Roy.
With a sigh, Toini rested her face in the palm of her hand. “Why did you have to go and do that?”
Grinning, Paivi put the phone back in her pocket. “Oh, lighten up Toini, it’s not that bad.”
“It worries me.” Toini rubbed at her cheeks. “I don’t think you should have done that.”
Paivi raised an eyebrow. “Why not? Is your god upset with me for ruining his plans?”
Toini closed her eyes and tried to relax. Her thoughts ran their course, withered out, drifted away, evaporated. Little by little, her mind calmed itself and disconnected from the world outside herself.
Calm. Quiet. Safe. A soft warm darkness. Everything was right.
She was where she should be. She had done what she should do. Her god was silent. There was no need for anything else – for now.
“No…” Toini opened her eyes again. A faint smile blooming on her face, like it always did after those moments. “I don’t think so. I don’t think it changes anything.”
“Well then.” Grinning, Paivi leaned forward, reached across the table and gave Toini a light punch on the shoulder. “That means it’s fine, right? Stop worrying. Right?”
“Mmm…” The smile stayed on, but her thoughts went drifting.
She saw him in her mind. His stubborn face. His worried eyes. Always trying to look after her. Never admitting that he did.
He’d loved her. She had no doubt. He really had.
The smile faded away from her. What if he hadn’t gotten over her? Twelve years. Surely he must have moved on. For his own sake. Poor Roy.
“Mmm…” she said again and reached for her coffee.
“Whatever. He’ll be fine.” Paivi shrugged. “What’s your plan for now then? Since Roy isn’t here I mean.”
A plan. She hadn’t even made a backup plan. There hadn’t been a need. Roy would have been here. She’d have found him, told him to pack and sort out his business, and then they’d be off again.
There was no plan. Toini let out a tired sigh. “I think I’ll just try and lie low for a bit and then once the Orange Cream arrives we’ll head south again as soon as we can.”
“Orange Cream.” Paivi grinned. “What kind of a name is that anyway?”
A grin cracked up Toni’s face and before she could stop herself a short laugh escaped her. “Last owner’s daughter named it. She was five or something.”
To think that Mareetha had been a young girl once. The woman had lived on the ship since before Toini was born, and she still kept the engines running as smoothly as ever. A good friend too.
“Okay.” Paivi nodded – perhaps a little bit confused about what was so funny about the name. “So no specific plans for things you need to do while you’re here?”
“Well…” Toini stretched her arms and dragged the word out. She really didn’t know what to do until the ship arrived. “Raoul probably wants me to report to Church, because that’s proper procedure and stuff, but I’ll try and weasel out of it somehow.”
“Always the rebel, huh?” Paivi chuckled.
“Church is so much hassle.” She grimaced and drummed her fingers against the table. “All that bureaucracy for no good reason.”
“Yeah. Like…” With a sigh, she shrugged and clamped her mouth shut. “Let’s not go there. Can I crash on your couch? You have a couch, right?”
Paivi’s face brightened, and she sat up a little straighter. “Of course you can. It’s a bit messy, but I’ve got clean sheets.”
Toini smiled. Messy was not a problem. “Sounds great. Anything out of the wind and with a roof is cool, really.” She’d slept through pouring rain on hard rock. A little bit of clutter wouldn’t bother her in the slightest.
“Your boyfriend’s going to have to find somewhere else though.” Paivi stuck up her nose and pressed her lips shut, but she couldn’t quite keep the mirth out of her voice. “He can stay with his own family or something.”
Scowling, Toini crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s not my boyfriend!”
“Exactly.” Paivi held up a finger as if making an important point. “And if he’s not sleeping with you, he’s not sleeping under my roof at all.” A big satisfied grin pulled at her cheeks.
Toini rolled her eyes and groaned. “Paivi…”
“But…” Paivi’s grin grew even wider. “If you want some cuddles, I can call Adrian for you.”
“No, please.” Toini took a deep breath and tried to smooth out her face. She couldn’t let her sister see she was getting to her. The teasing would never stop.
“I hear he’s single again.” Paivi rested her chin in the palm of her hand and sent a mock wistful look towards the ceiling. “The tabloids have been all over him for weeks.”
“No, Paivi!” The words burst out of her before she could stop herself. “No!” Her heart sank. So much for trying to seem unbothered. If she knew her sister, and she probably still did, this would be a recurring theme for the next few days.
“Are you sure?” Paivi dragged out the word, and her smile shone like a beacon of mischief in a storm of order. “I’ve got his number right here.” She fished her phone up out of her pocket again and began fiddling with the screen.
“No! Please don’t.” A big ball of unease churned in her stomach. This had to stop, before she panicked. “Please Paivi, I’m serious.”
Toini clasped her hands and made her eyes as wide as she could. She blinked a few times and tilted her head to the side, making her best impression of a sad puppy.
“Well…” Still grinning, and without a hint of mercy, Paivi stroked her chin and studied her younger sister across the table. “Then you’d better do as I say.”
“Uh… what?” This was not going to end well.
Paivi smoothed out her face, and took a sip of her coffee. “I can’t close the pub, and Ali’ast has been wanting an evening off for ages.” She paused for a moment to let the words sink in. “You still know how to pull a pint, right?”
“Uhm…” Toini swallowed. Definitely not going to end well. “I’m trying to keep a low profile you know. This might not be a good idea.”
Without missing a beat, Paivi reached for her phone. “Let’s see… Where’s Adrian again…”
Toini sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay. You win. I think I still know how to pull a pint.”