“I’m going to head home,” Pete said.
“But what about seeing Mai’ou?” Kelin asked. The boys walked together without any other friends around.
“Same as the rest; I’ve got to get ready for tomorrow. They really didn’t spare us, even on the first day. Besides, I’m sure Va’il’s fine. Let me know if he’s sick tomorrow, and once school calms down we can all go see him,” Pete said. He smiled cheerfully, and then waved goodbye as Kelin stood in place, stunned.
“Fine, that pig can have his rest,” Kelin said under his breath. “It’s not like the work is difficult. Bah, fine, maybe he’s right and I’m just over-thinking it.”
Kelin continued talking to himself while continuing on the road to Va’il’s house. Correct or not, he wasn’t going to stop just because Pete and the rest had decided to do their heavily-assigned schoolwork. The first day had already given them an introduction to their new teachers and schoolmates, as well as assignments in classical works to start reading and problems to be immediately tested on. The new teachers had shown they wanted to assess the children immediately, which threw several plans for relaxation awry. Kelin didn’t need to relax, but his plans were ruined nonetheless. Not only were Va’il and Ruby unseen, but only Kelin and Teena shared the same class. That was good, but it still meant that the group was broken apart. Zeick, Pete, and Harnes all added something to the atmosphere, the comfortable one that Kelin decided was best. Kelin reached Va’il’s house; he stopped musing on the events of the day and knocked on the door.
Kelin knocked a second and then a third time in rapid succession; the first knock was likely heard. When he considered knocking again, the door flew open. Standing in the doorway was Mai’ou.
“Oh, it’s Kelin,” Mai’ou said. She turned sideways and motioned for Kelin to come in, which he obliged. She closed the door and sat at a table.
“Mai’ou, hi,” Kelin said, lost for better words. He wasn’t expecting calmness from Mai’ou, but seeing her like this made him think that nothing was wrong with Va’il and that he was worrying for no reason.
“Are you here because of Va’il?” Mai’ou asked.
“Yeah. Is he not feeling well? We didn’t see him today at school,” Kelin said.
“No,” Mai’ou replied. There was a lack of emotion that Kelin noticed. Mai’ou hadn’t once smiled yet, either. A small shiver ran through him, making the environment seem cold.
“Va’il isn’t here, is he?” Kelin asked. He hoped he was jumping to conclusions.
“No. I don’t know, either,” Mai’ou said. Her eerie calm was slowly dissipating, and more emotion could be heard in her voice.
“I see. That brat does run off at times, though,” Kelin said.
“Not without telling me, not anymore,” Mai’ou said.
“Maybe. There is something else that makes me think it, though. Another one of our friends was missing. Do you know if maybe he’d be with them? Considering who she is, I doubt it, but there is a possibility.”
“Another person? I don’t know. Maybe. I think that’s what he said last night. That he was going to meet a friend. Oh! So you think my son is with this other person? A friend? A girl, did you say?” Mai’ou asked, sounding somewhat relieved at the prospect of her son being foolish instead of missing.
“Wait, you said he went out? Why am I asking things in the wrong order? First, when was the last time you saw Va’il?” Kelin felt like knocking himself once for forgetting to ask the most important question until now.
“Last night. He said that he and a friend were going to meet up, and didn’t need dinner that night since he’d eat with them. A girl? Really? Lupus? I’m not well caught-up on Va’il’s friends other than you and Pete.”
“A noble human girl. Very high in status. Sorry to disappoint, she’s just one of our stranger friends. But she wasn’t at school either. For her to be gone is one thing, she’s a noble. But for Va’il to be gone as well, missing even, after having seen her the night before, is strange. Did he say where he was meeting her?”
“Human noble girl? Va’il’s really made some odd friends, it appears. But anyways, I’m not sure where. Can you lead me to this friend’s place? We can ask if Va’il is there together.” Mai’ou looked at Kelin with bright eyes filled with the usual vigor he had seen in them. She was used to being worried over Va’il, but had learned to relax and realize that Va’il was becoming someone who’d be safe without her. Her worry over the prejudice he faced was slowly being replaced by the confidence that lupus placed in their youth, the children who grew up strong and resilient by nature.
Kelin had to turn away briefly, his face feeling flush. His crush on Mai’ou had never really disappeared, even though he had begun thinking it was just admiration and childish love. It still wasn’t something that would disappear. His thoughts came together quick enough. Mai’ou couldn’t come. She couldn’t know who Ruby was, either. He thought Mai’ou was common, of absolutely no status. She had no reason to even know a noble, let alone meet one. Kelin, of course, ignored the fact that he was a noble himself, while excluding Mai’ou. Most importantly, though, was exactly who Ruby’s family was. Kelin couldn’t even begin to guess at Madam Melonscone’s erratic temper, and didn’t want Mai’ou anywhere close to it. Even though Kelin thought Mai’ou would never be in a position that could lend to her meeting Jane, Kelin didn’t want to entertain the thought. And, if his relief was only temporary and Ruby was missing too, he could only imagine the fury Jane would display.
“No, I’ll find out alone. It’ll be easier,” Kelin said.
“Suspicious. What are you hiding?” Mai’ou asked.
“Unless you want to approach a noble?” Kelin asked, and then regretted his tone.
“Ah, that’s true. Well, dear Kelin, please tell me what my mischievous son is up to. But I won’t set my expectations too high. If there is a problem, if he’s somehow gotten into something over his head, it is fine to let me know. Even if, well, no, hopefully not. But just in case. Please, okay Kelin? He’s all I have here.”
“Yeah,” Kelin said. He thought that he should say that he knew. That he understood. That he wanted to do all he could for both the mother and son. But enough of his persona had already cracked. He wasn’t in control of the situation, and it was infuriating him that his friends had gone missing and he didn’t know why. But the slightly callous acknowledgement was enough, for both him and the understanding Mai’ou.
“Thank you,” Kelin said, and then he walked out the door.
“No use crying,” Mai’ou said once alone. She scratched her head a few times while her face echoed her troubled thoughts. She smiled softly a few times, and then acquired a solemn look.
Mai’ou walked into the various rooms of the house, picking out items from here and there and placing them on a chair in the main room. Eventually she brought out a large blanket and placed it on the chair.
“In case, just in case. It’s been a while.”