I Am Lenn – Chapter Eight

Three or four more days passed. I could hardly believe that my life in the Petersen home would become routine. It only took this long to become well enough for James to remove my thick daily bandages. Instead, James settled for thin and comfortable strips that merely reminded me not to overextend my neck. I could even wear the light-tan shirt Catherine gave me over them; it was a bit stiff and itchy at first, but it kept me comfortable and warm.

I had long since stopped bleeding, but when James showed me my reflection, I couldn’t stop staring. I had expected to see a single clean stroke. But the long, wide, and jagged gash on my body was, in fact, three different serrations: the first along my left shoulder, the second sliding diagonally across my throat, and the third catching my jaw and curving up behind my right ear. It truly looked like someone had tried to take my life with several wicked knives. Searing red and inflamed, I knew the wounds hadn’t fully healed yet, so I accepted his direction to continue wearing smelly creams and resting despite my desire to roam about with Ian. Regular bathing was still out of the question, although once the heavy bandages came off, my trusted doctor graciously allowed me to clean myself with pieces of the cold cleaning wipes without assistance.

I don’t remember what day it was when I began to feel a bit better, but I woke in what I assumed was late evening to find a dim white light on somewhere above my head. I looked towards it, and found the source just in time for it to blind me. I squeezed my eyes shut with my hand as I let out a quiet yawn. I thought it was quiet, anyway. I didn’t understand that the source of light was being held by someone.

“Lenn?”

I looked up. The bright white source of light exploded into a square white sun that really blinded me.

“Urgh…!”

“Oops,” said the voice, and I felt the room fall into pitch-black darkness with a click. I didn’t see the dark exactly, what with my eyes scorched clean.

“Ian?” I whispered. “What was that…?”

“My phone,” he said back. “Sorry.”

“Did you have to blind me?”

“I couldn’t see you. Sorry! I wasn’t thinking.”

I couldn’t be mad at him, exactly. I opened my eyes, and I could see no difference between my closed eyelids and what I assumed was a dark room.

“I hope this isn’t permanent,” I moaned, rubbing what remained of my eyeballs. “The room is dark, right?”

“Yeah.”

Yul diah. You were looking at that?”

“Um. Yeah.”

“And you aren’t blind?”

“No.” Ian paused. “Well, I can’t see anything right now.

I pushed myself deeper into the plush towel blanket behind my head and waited for the ‘light’ in my retinas to fade. Something odd then occurred to me.

“You know,” I whispered. “In the dark, we’re not that different.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are sitting right next to me, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You can’t see me?”

He paused for a moment, and I felt a breeze blow on me from above.

“No.”

I chuckled.

“Would my voice scare you if you didn’t know me?”

I heard him chuckle back.

Oh yeah.”

“And I would think you were one of my students,” I said.

“Does it matter that we’re different?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I always thought it did.”

I then heard a click. The room became ever-so-slightly illuminated by a very dim source of white light. I could barely see through the haze of my own blindness that the nearly formless silhouette of a boy loomed over me. I followed his silhouette downwards until it faded into obscurity; the boy did indeed sit next to me.

“There, that won’t blind us,” Ian said, and I heard him place his phone upon the side table.

“What time is it?”

“Um…” The boy’s shadow turned to see. “Eleven fifteen.”

“At night?”

“Duh,” Ian snorted. “It’s dark, isn’t it?”

You should be in bed.”

“…I am in bed.”

Your bed.”

Ian sighed.

“I don’t… want to sleep.”

“Why not?”

“I just… don’t want to go to school in the morning.”

“Waking up early is only going to be harder if you stay up late, kani.”

“No, it’s not that,” he said. “It’s… the stupid people there.”

“What stupid people?”

“Other guys in my class always making fun of me. Especially this one idiot called Jace. Today, he just… wouldn’t stop.”

I slid myself into a seated position and stopped looking upwards to ease the pain in my neck.

“What was he doing to you?”

“I was eating lunch outside, and he kept trying to kick a soccer ball at me,” Ian said quietly. “He kept missing, so he made his friends do it too. They kept missing, too, until they started throwing them.”

I scowled.

“What did you do? Did you fight back?”

From what I could tell, Ian shook his head.

“I put my lunch in my backpack and went inside. They chased me, so I hid in the library until the bell rang.” I heard a sigh. “They do this every day.”

My head turned to look in his direction, despite the darkness.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I say something, and they just… they think I’m stupid. They even pass notes to me in class, saying mean stuff. I showed them to my teacher once. Jace got in trouble, but… it made it worse. He makes fun of me every day now.”

I knew the feeling all too well. From one Iatili in particular, but he was long gone.

“Humph,” I snorted. “If you make me Iatvi, I’ll go kick that boy right in the darmid ese.

“What does that mean?”

“Do you like swearing?”

“No.”

“Then I won’t tell you.”

I felt Ian laugh, despite himself.

“You go be my big brother, and stab him with a needle. Or put laxatives in his food. See how he likes it.”

My face scrunched up like I’d eaten something sour.

“Huh,” I said. “Never thought you’d say things like that.”

“It’s how I feel,” Ian said. I felt him shift his long legs somewhere distant. “I can’t do it by myself. They would hit me and spit on me again.”

“What…?” I looked up at the silhouette of his face. “Spit on you? Why? It isn’t like you have a bad leg, you’re perfectly healthy. And you don’t do anything bad at school, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” Ian whined quietly. “I don’t… I don’t get why they do it.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I had just woken up, sure, but I had a whole night of blessed sleep ahead of me, in a bed beyond compare. I stretched and yawned as much as my pain would allow.

“Well,” I said. “Since that Jace boy could smash me like a bug, I’m not sure I can help much. But I’m here when you come home. I hope that counts for something.”

“Yeah,” Ian said quickly. “Yeah, it does.”

We both paused.

“Hey.”

I could tell he was looking down in my direction.

“Huh?”

“I’ve heard patients feel less pain when they’re distracted.” I had a grin on my face, not that he could see it. “Grab your phone and teach me something interesting.”

A chuckle rumbled through the mattress springs.

“Like what?”

“Let’s see…” My finger sat upon my chin. “Tell me how time works.”

“What?” I could hear him smiling. “Like, time travel?”

“No, no,” I said. “Like, who decided twelve was midnight? Why do twenty-four hours make a day? Why do… um, what is it again… thirty. No, sixty? In a minute? Who decided that?”

Ian hummed.

“That is interesting,” he said. Picking up his phone from the side table. I could then see his illuminated face. “Let me see.”

I heard the ‘pops’ of each key he typed. A thought then ‘popped’ into my mind with the same simplicity.

“Hey, you’re not gonna get in trouble with James, are you? For being up late?”

Ian’s eyes shot in my direction.

“They’re asleep,” he said, almost whispering. “I snuck out of bed. You won’t tell them, will you?”

My grin remained on my face.

“Hmm. Depends on how well you teach me, kani.”

“Pff.” A puff of air slow air drifted past me. “You’re not gonna tell.”

My eyebrows raised.

“Oh, oh…” I said, completely understanding. A challenge, then. I cupped my hand around my mouth and, as loudly as I could shout with my raspy voice: “JAMES!! IAN WON’T GO TO BED!!”

Ian’s head swung my way.

“Shush, shush, shh, shh, stay… shh!” His phone dropped to his lap, revealing me just enough that Ian knew where to hold out his desperate hands. “Lenn! Please! I don’t want to get in trouble again! Don’t yell!”

He fell silent and I held back my laughter.

“As if he could hear me from here anyway.”

“Well, y-you don’t know!” His expression in the dark was sincerely serious. “Don’t do it again, please?”

“Okay, okay, calm down,” I said. “I’m just being a teasing big brother. That’s how I’m supposed to do it, right?”

“No,” he whined. “You shouldn’t do it at all.

It was my turn to hold up my hands.

“Fine, fine, I won’t be mean to you anymore. Come on, it’s time for time.” I settled myself back into my blankets.

“All right,” he mumbled quietly.

“Just don’t blame me when your mother gets mad you can’t wake up in the morning.”


The next day after Ian returned from school (a day free of bullying, fortunately), he told me something I had suspected for a while: Aaron and Chris were both dying to see me again. Somehow, they had resisted telling Ian’s aunt and uncle why they wanted to visit Ian so badly. At least, Ian was fairly certain they had kept their mouths shut. It had been Catherine that had told them to hold off coming over so as not to frighten and exhaust me. When I learned this, I told Catherine at dinner that although it did make me a bit nervous, I wouldn’t mind having them say hello.

I don’t know what I expected.

The very next morning, I sat quietly reading something on Ian’s phone early in the morning when I heard a horrifying stampede. Before I could even wonder who or what had entered the front door of the house… The guest room door burst open and gave me a heart attack.

“Hi little boy!”

Then, before I could even think about retreating, a blond-haired monster with bright blue eyes barreled into the room. He didn’t even stop at the bedside; he hurdled onto the bed, a blue-tan-ivory boulder crashing upon the mattress, sending me into the air. I came back down with a thud, and while not painful, the shock of the giant Iatvi flattened my mental state. He sat cross-legged in front of me, immediately placing his head in his hands and excitedly eyeing me. He’d probably removed his shoes at the front door, and the nausea of bare human boy hit me like a wave.

“Chris!” shouted Ian’s voice as he entered the room. “What are you doing! I told you not to hurt Lenn!”

“I didn’t!”

Ian came and knelt in front of the bed at my side, and another familiar face met mine: Aaron, the red-haired and freckled older cousin.

“Hi Lenn,” he said brightly with a quick wave.

Vah sulm, Lenn?” Ian asked.

I have to admit, I was more than a little shaky. I stared at all three ka Iatvi staring back at me, and cleared my throat.

“Uh, s-sia, sulmtol…” I whimpered. “Hello Aaron, hi Chris.”

“What are you talking?” Chris asked. “What’s sumptol mean?”

“It’s Lenn’s language,” Ian said. “He’s been teaching it to me. He said ‘really good’. I don’t think he means it, though.”

“Sure I do,” I replied quietly, rubbing an arm.

“You can talk,” Aaron said, resting his arms on the bed. “Chris and me were really worried you would die. But I knew Uncle James would fix you right up.”

Codahke, Aaron,” I said. “You helped me. I can’t imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t found me. Why were you playing near the river that day anyway?”

“It’s a shortcut to the park. It’s not far from our house, and we go that way a lot. We don’t tell Mom about it, though, she’d yell at us. She doesn’t want us to drown, I guess.”

“Say that sumptol word again,” Chris said. “I wanna learn it too.”

Sulm… tol,” Ian said slowly.

“Soom… tool?”

“Soo-el-mm tol.”

“Sool-hmm tole?” Chris rolled the words around in his mouth. “That’s hard to say.”

“Not really,” Aaron said.

“It is for me. Soolm-toll.”

I laughed.

“I’ve taught a lot of kids how to speak English. But I’ve never taught Iatvi how to speak Iatnasi.

I got blank stares from the young cousins.

Iatvi means human,” Ian explained. “And Iatnasi is his language.”

“So what’s he called?” Aaron asked. “He’s not a human, right? He’s way too small.”

“What’s the word…?” Ian asked again, snapping his fingers. “Iati…? I can never remember.”

Iatili.

“Right, Iatili.

Chris leaned towards me, tilting his head like a puppy dog.

“You say English words funny,” he said with a laugh.

“Hey, that’s not nice,” Aaron said, shoving his younger brother’s shoulder playfully. “That’s just his accent. I think it’s cool.”

“Can I pick you up?” Chris asked, pushing Ian’s phone away from my lap and thrusting his hands forwards. My eyes nearly bulged out of my head. Fortunately, Aaron and Ian quickly shoved Chris’s hands back down.

“No no no…” Ian said.

“Stop, stop!” Aaron agreed out loud. “He’s not an animal. He’s a person. You can’t just grab him.”

“But I asked him first! And I wasn’t just gonna grab him. How come Ian can pick him up and not me?”

“Because you’re not responsible like him.”

“Nuh-uh! I am ‘sponsible!”

I shook myself out of my fear.

“Ian? Can you help me up?”

“Oh, uh-huh.”

Holding out his hand, I leaned against it and grunted myself to my feet. My bad knee immediately bent backwards, and I winced at the discomfort. I snapped it back into a straight position.

“Whoa…” Aaron exclaimed.

“Ah!” Chris shouted. “Did you break your leg?”

“Come on, guys! It’s just-”

“Ian, Ian,” I said, patting his finger. “They can ask questions, nothing wrong with that. I was very sick as a child and it made my leg this way. Ian and James called it ‘polio’.”

“Oh… I’ve heard of that,” Aaron said. “Does it hurt? Your leg, I mean? Can you walk on it?”

“It only hurts if I bend it too far back. It’s a bit difficult to walk on, but I’ll soon be okay enough to use crutches to get around.”

“What’s a polio?” Chris asked.

“It’s a virus that can paralyze and kill people,” Ian said. “Especially kids. It’s really scary, but humans don’t get it anymore because of vaccines you get as a baby. Lenn’s people still get it, though.”

“Did I get a vaccine so I won’t get it?”

“I’m sure you did.”

“That’s good… I like my legs straight.”

I laughed lightly.

“I’ll bet you run really fast on them.”

“Uh-huh!” he said proudly.

“Well…” I said with a cough, carefully stepping out of my blanket nest towards the boy sitting before me. “Might as well get this over with.”

“Huh?”

I stopped a half-foot from Chris’s folded legs. This young boy may have been the smallest Iatvi I’d ever seen, but he still sat over me like a thick tree trunk.

“Come on, I’m going to trust you. Lift me up.”

“Lenn, are you sure?” Ian asked.

“I’m sure. So long as Chris promises to be gentle.”

“I will, really,” Chris responded.

Chris’s hands hovered and monstrously closed in around me.

“Wait wait…” I said, grabbing his hands and pulling the delicate fingers downwards. “Hold on, don’t take me all at once, you don’t want to make my wound worse. Hold me here instead.”

I placed my hands on my hips, and Chris obeyed. His hands were cool and clammy to the touch, not to mention considerably smaller than Ian’s. They took my waist a bit tightly, and a familiar strength took hold. I soon felt my feet part from the bed, and he lifted me up to his eye level (which, fortunately, wasn’t more than a foot up).

For a moment, he examined me. And when I say he examined me, I mean he brought me very close to his face and stared. His eyes darted across my features like a pair of bright-blue spinning globes, and his long eyelashes blinked up and down like waving sails. He even went so far as to slightly rotate me side-to-side as if testing the gravity of my limbs (which did, in fact, swing heavy and loose).

“Wow,” he finally said, his breath smelling like a mixture of sugary cereal and toothpaste. “You’re so cool.”

I laughed, reaching a hand outwards and patting him on the head.

“I’m not that interesting, really. I don’t think I’ve ever been called ‘cool’. Except maybe by Ian. Serdi.

He tilted his head.

“What’s ‘sir-dee’ mean?”

“It means ‘thank you’.”

“Oh. What’s ‘you’re welcome’?”

Serdia.

“Hmm.” He made a goofy face. “Sir-dee-ah!”

“Very good. Sulmtol!

I felt a finger tap my shoulder.

“Where do you come from, Lenn?” Aaron asked. He chortled. “You’re not an alien from another planet, are you?”

“Oh, come on,” Ian moaned.

“Turn me around, would you Chris?”

“Oh, yeah.”

The fingers rotated me to face the two older boys. I placed my hands on the edges of Chris’s own.

“No, I’m not… what did you say? An… alien? What is that?”

“It’s a scary person thing that comes from outer space.”

“Scary? I’m not scary. What’s outer space?”

“Up past the atmosphere.”

“The at-moe-sphere. Like, above the clouds?”

Way above the clouds,” Aaron said, showing the distance with his hands. “Up in the stars.”

“I, uh… I sure don’t come from there.”

Ian shoved Aaron sideways.

“Besides, aliens are green, with huge heads and great big eyes. Does he look green to you?”

“Whatever, you don’t know what an alien looks like. If he is an alien, maybe he’s got a hidden spaceship somewhere.” Aaron then grinned wildly. “What if he goes up and shrinks cows with a front-mounted laser beam? That would be awesome!”

I burst out into laughter, as did Ian.

“What, cows? You kani are so strange!”

“Kah-knee?” asked a young voice behind me.

“It means ‘little boys’.”

“I’m not a ‘little boy’. I am great-big to you,” Chris said with a giggle, and I felt a pair of great thumbs press into the middle of my back.

“Hey! I am too!” Aaron said.

I locked eyes with Ian and saw a grin on his face.

“We already talked about this, Lenn. Remember?”

I wobbled my head.

“Okay, fine. But I’m still older than all of you. How old are you two?”

“I’m nine and a half,” Aaron said.

Swift as a bird, Chris placed me onto the surface of the bed. My stomach leaped into my throat as I landed.

“I’m almost six,” he announced, revealing why he’d let me down: he held up five fingers in one hand, and a bent index finger on the other that showed just how close his birthday was. Then, as quickly as he’d placed me down, he picked me right back up again, his hands grasping me too far up my torso.

“Chris, you can’t just put him up and down like that. Be careful, please,” Ian said.

“Down on my hips, remember?” I said, grunting. “You’re getting a little too close to my bandages.”

“Sorry,” he whispered, leaning me back and laying out my prone body horizontal in both hands trying to follow my instructions. My legs hung limp, and my arms did the same between his thumbs.

“That’s not a good way to do it…” Ian said, and I heard the bed heave under pressure as he reached for me.

“No, I can do it, I can,” Chris said.

Chris then flipped me back vertically, and wrapped his hands back onto my hips… trapping my arms at my sides.

“Guh,” I heaved as the young boy’s hands rotating me forwards, the edges of his skin and the angle of gravity shoving my stomach inwards.

“Chris, stop,” Aaron said behind me.

“Come on, give him to me, Chris,” demanded Ian.

“No! No, I can do it! Let me hold him!”

In trying to keep me away, Chris yanked me backwards against his chest, and my face rammed into him. Two months ago, I would have been screaming in fear. Instead, the soft collision and this kani fumbling with my entire body made a mindless laugh burst from my lungs. I had truly gone insane.

“Ian, Aaron,” I choked. I think my laugh shocked them all. “Wait! I’m fine, I’m fine. Chris, it’s okay. Don’t squeeze too hard, I need to pull my arms out.”

“Oh.”

The tightness faded immediately, and I plucked my arms out from between myself and his moist hands. I then felt myself slip forwards, and I reached out to grab the front of the boy’s shirt.

“Ah, careful Chris! Don’t drop me, please!”

His grip reformed around me properly, and again, Chris lifted me up to his eyes. Instead of excitement, I saw a face of concern and regret.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

“Phew,” I said cheerfully. “No problem.”

“Chris isn’t allowed to pick up the kittens at home,” Aaron laughed. “He plays with them too hard.”

“Nuh-uh! I’m getting better!”

I laughed with a moan.

“That, uh… that would have been good information to have a minute ago.” I patted Chris’s thumbs with both hands and looked up at his round face. “But you did very good, Chris. Sort of.”

He lit up like a candle.

“Yay!” he said with great big nods.


The rest of that day, I became a merry little captive to the three kani. From video games and watching funny movies on Ian’s phone to spending time in the backyard (keeping to the shadows of the porch as well as I could), I attempted to remain independent. But, of course, without crutches and practically limping by the late morning, I was carried and traded between all three boys like a pillbug. Catherine watched over all of us (or specifically me) to the point that she joined the boys whenever I was brought out of Ian’s room.

I could tell Ian was doing his best to keep me and Chris separated, but he didn’t quite have the control he wanted. Chris carried me around like a doll when it was “his turn” (which Ian begrudgingly allowed), and when he couldn’t, he poked and prodded me with every chance he could get. Aaron, on the other hand, was much more respectful. He was very calm and quiet for his age, mostly keeping his hands to himself. He followed directions much like Ian, but allowed me a bit more “freedom” than Ian preferred; whenever it was his turn to watch me, he let me walk instead of lifting me, and didn’t seem to know when or how to offer help when I stumbled. I didn’t mind all three of them, all things considered. But they certainly critiqued each other about the way I should be treated.

As the clock at Ian’s bedside table read 3 P.M., we spent the time watching an entertaining show on Ian’s television. Or, at least, the television was on; whether anyone was watching was debatable. Aaron sat in the chair, Ian laid on his bed, and Chris laid belly-first on the floor with his head in his hands. Naturally, as I sat on the floor resting my legs from playtime outside, Chris was right before me, and he was more interested in me than the cartoon. Aaron had begun to drift off, and Ian was engrossed on his phone, so I had no one to “protect” me from the youthful and entertaining kaval.

“You know,” I said to him as he bobbed his bare feet back and forth behind him. He sniffed every few seconds as if allergic to something. “I teach kids your age how to read and write. Do you have a teacher that does that for you?”

Chris nodded, his fingers dancing under his chin.

“Miss Rodriguez is my teacher. She’s really nice. But I’m not good at reading.”

He said every other word with an ever-so-slight pause, as if wanting to get everything out of his mouth correctly. I always found that endearing with kids his age, even if it annoyed some of the less-patient parents I negotiated with at the village.

“That’s okay,” I said. “It just takes practice. Have you learned how to spell your name?”

“Uh-huh.”

Sulm! That’s a great start.”

“Sul-hmm? What’s that mean?”

“It means ‘good’. Like ‘sulmtol’, remember?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, nodding as if understanding.

“What do you like to do at school? What’s your favorite subject?”

“Hmm…” He tapped his finger on his nose. Then he snapped up. “Drawing.”

“Oh, that’s mine too. What do you draw?”

“With crayons,” he answered awkwardly. “I draw dinosaurs and houses and trucks, and all sorts of stuff.”

Sulm,” I said again. Then I frowned. “I’ve read the word ‘dinosaur’ before. What’s it mean? What’s a dinosaur?”

“You don’t know what a dinosaur is?” Chris asked, leaning closer to me.

“Nope, I don’t.”

He spread his arms out as wide as they could go, leaving him breathless against the floor; his fingers nearly hit me on the way up, and I raised my arms to protect myself.

“They’re great-big monsters that lived a million-billion years ago. Some of them ate plants, and some of them with big sharp teeth chased other dinosaurs and ate them.”

“A million-billion years ago?” I asked. “How do you know something lived that long ago?”

“Um… people find their bones and dig them up. And then put them in museums. I saw some when I went with Mom.”

“Their bones, huh?”

“They’re called fossils,” Ian added from his bed.

“Yeah, fos-sils,” Chris nodded.

“Interesting. You know, if my people found old bones, we knew it was important to stay away from that spot because that meant monsters like wolves and foxes and birds hunted there. If they found us, they would hurt our families and friends, and… and we’d all get very sad.”

Ys yul, those were bad memories. Images of torn bodies and blood-stained snow filled my mind, but those were hardly appropriate to share with a five-year old boy. Chris pouted.

“That makes me sad, too. I don’t want monsters to eat my family.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that too much. You’re great-big, remember? Monsters would be afraid of you instead and run away.”

“But I’m not great-big,” Chris admitted, folding his arms on the floor and resting his head on them. “I’m small. I get scared that something will eat me.”

“Like dogs, huh Chris?” Ian said. “Are you still afraid of dogs?”

“Nuh-uh,” he said quickly. “Well… not small dogs. Big dogs are scary.”

“Every dog is big to me,so I’m certainly afraid of them. Cats, too. They’d all rather chew on me.”

Chris nodded.

“But you’re not afraid of big people like me?” Chris’s fingers floated towards me and took hold of one of my feet. He even pulled me back towards him, causing me to slide through the thick carpet on my bottom. I don’t know if he correlated his question with his actions, but I certainly made the connection.

“I am… sometimes,” I whispered, trying to pull back. “Especially if they try to hurt me. I was very afraid of you when you and Ian and Aaron found me.”

“Me?” Chris stopped tugging, satisfied to tap his index finger and thumb around my ankle. “But I’m not scary.”

“You can be. If you picked me up and put me in a cage, I couldn’t get out. If you didn’t help me find food or water, I’d get very hungry and thirsty and sick. If you weren’t careful, you could drop me or step on me.”

These novel ideas floated through Chris’s mind as well as across his pensive expression. His tongue came out of his mouth, licking his upper lip as he thought.

“That wouldn’t be very nice,” he said finally. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“What if you did it on accident?”

He thought again, his hand covering his lips.

“I’d be really careful… and say sorry.”

“That’s a good answer,” I asked. “I’m glad.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, you’re being very nice to me right now. So thank you, Chris. Serdi. You boys have all been very kind to me.”

Chris’s hand approached me (naturally the one he used to cover his tongue-soaked lip) and gently patted me on the head. Unsure of what he planned to do next, I laughed and tried to gently push him away. Instead, he took hold of my arm and bent it up and down like a stick on a hinge. He didn’t even have anything to say about his actions; he simply hummed to himself.

“Hey,” I said, patting his thumb with my other hand. “You’re silly.”

Soolm, soolm,” he whispered. “You’re very… um, flex-ee-ble.”

“Well, careful,” I replied. “My shoulder is very close to my wounds.”

“Oh.”

He let go, but gently squeezed my foot again. Ian must have been watching, or at least listening.

“Chris,” he growled. “Don’t touch Lenn without asking first. You’re gonna hurt him.”

“But I won’t.”

“Hey, Chris,” I called to him, recapturing his attention. “Can you help me up?”

“Uh-huh!”

He rose from his belly and sat upon the floor with his feet tucked beneath him, and reached out his hands to lift me and grab me again.

“Not like that,” I said. “Just give me your hand so I can stand up.”

“Oh. M‘kay.”

He did so, and with some effort, I clambered to my feet. Unable to stop a yawn, I paused for a moment, leaning against the young boy’s open hand.

Serdi, Chris.”

“Um… soolm?

“Not quite. It’s serdia, remember? ‘You’re welcome’.”

“Yeah, ser-dee-ah.”

“Hey Ian,” I called. Ian’s face quickly appeared over the side of the bed. “Is it okay if I go back to the guest room to sleep?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I heard his phone click off, and he sat up on the edge of his bed. He bent down to take me in his hands himself, but Chris intercepted him. Powerful kani hands hauled me into the air and presented me to my ‘little’ brother.

“Here you go!” Chris said cheerfully.

Ian’s face flashed with annoyance, but he didn’t say anything as he took me by my waist and cradled me against his chest.

Serdi again, Chris,” I said.

“Um… oh yeah, serdia!

“Can you stay here while I take Lenn to bed?” Ian asked.

“Uh-huh,” Chris replied, immediately turning himself and flattening against the carpet to watch the television. Ian rose and stepped over the youngest ka, growling under his breath something akin to “thank you very much, you little dork”. I laughed, patting Ian’s chest, and he let out an airy guff.

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