N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Umami: The Trading Season Part 6

Birds of a Feather (soundtrack: a cat’s purr)

Olive stood at the door of the church, straining to smile at every face. They were slowly becoming familiar, too slowly, but she was trying. She struggled with every bland hello she could muster to remember this one and that one, when really she could care less. Down the line she saw the face of the only person in town, besides Mambo Cree, that she easily recognized. The Dogman, Rastus Ward.

The skin of his face clung to his head tightly, the bones of his skull prominent. Like a barely disguised death’s head, a skeleton masquerading among the living. The watery eyes and pockmarked flesh did little to encourage any other comparison. His long limbs swung wide as he strode toward the entrance of the church.

Olive had watched the way the other townsfolk edged away from him, like always. She met his eyes, and nodded, kin in isolation. He moved past her with the barest of glances, and moved into a pew near the front. A position of power. He wouldn’t have it any other way, and the town couldn’t afford to offend him. The dogs gave them something to hunt with, something to trade, and something in which to take pride.

Rastus had brought most of the breeding stock with him, or so went the story she’d been told. He walked out of the Big Death one day, his pack preceding him, and into the church. He and Mambo Cree spent a day and a night discussing the terms of his acceptance into the Flock. It was one of the reasons he got to keep a house so far out of town. Olive envied him that house, the quiet it afforded.

Since the night she’d been welcomed, Olive had spent every waking moment with one person or the other. The little girl that had fetched her the first day, Sofia, came every morning and chattered her way to whichever destination was to be Olive’s for the day. Then the lessons would start. Survival with Bass, farming with Timms, she even spent a day in the school with the children. Their eyes had cut to her so often she was tempted to pull a face, but she knew she was the representing of the church and should know better. Mostly though, she spent her time with Mambo Cree learning about the community.

Who did what, when and where was only the tip of the iceberg. Olive knew more about these people, their fears and history than she knew about her own family. She dropped her eyes to the ground, unable to smile at the next flock members through the door. Thoughts of her family still cut like a knife. She swallowed hard and looked up in time to see the next couple approaching.

He was tall and bespectacled and she was plump and pale. Olive knew it was the teacher and his new wife, but what were their names? Felta and Dolly, that was it!

Felta’s arm encricled Dolly’s waist with his fingers spread wide over her hip and belly. They were both smiling.

Olive stared into the young woman’s brilliant blue eyes and saw a sparkle there. She offered her only genuine smile of the morning to them.

“Congratulations on the baby,” she whispered.

The couple looked at one another in shock, but the blush creeping up Dolly’s neck gave it away.

“Don’t worry, I won’t say anything,” Olive winked at them, “at least not till Mam-Momma Cree has a chance to make the announcement herself.”

They both smiled at her, and snuck away to their pew as Momma Cree emerged from the back of the church. Olive looked over the congregation, making note of those missing. Momma Cree would want to check on them later.

For better or worse, this was her family now.

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