Megan gripped my hand as we walked to the schoolhouse. She was shaking and kept moving closer to me. Candace had made a bag for her to put all her belongings in and carry on her back. When we got to the schoolhouse, she stopped walking completely.
I sighed and knelt down in front of her.
"It's okay," I whispered. "I promise."
"I'm scared," she whispered back, tears in her eyes.
I thought. "Why don't we make a deal?" I offered and she looked at me. "If you go today and you don't have fun, you don't have to go back. How does that sound?"
She looked at the building over my shoulder for a few seconds. Kids were running to it, the smaller ones racing and giggling. She glanced at the play area and gulped audibly before finally nodding.
I held out my pink and she looped hers around it. We kissed our thumbs and I stood, holding her hand again as we walked to the front doors. An older woman stood there and beamed when she saw us.
"Are you Thomas Buckley?" she asked and I nodded. She looked at Megan. "Then that makes you Megan." She just stared. "My name is Mrs. Vance and I'll be your teacher. I'm really excited for you to join us?"
"Do you have dolls?" Megan asked in a tiny voice.
Mrs. Vance smiled. "In fact, we do for when it's play time. Now, let's get you inside so you can meet your fellow students."
I knelt down and kissed Megan's forehead. She cried and I hugged her tightly, feeling a lump in my throat. I was probably more nervous than she was. Was this a good idea? Or should I take her back? Would they treat her well?
"She'll be fine, Mr. Buckley," Mrs. Vance said when I finally stood back up.
I smiled at Megan when she hesitated at Mrs. Vance's offered hand.
"I'll be back at four to come get you," I said.
"Promise?" she whimpered.
I held out my pinky again and she quickly did our pact. I waved as she walked in. When the doors shut, I took a few deep breaths, leaning my head back a little.
"First time at school?" an old man asked.
"Yeah," I breathed, rubbing the back of my neck.
"Your daughter will be just fine," he assured me.
"Oh, she's not my daughter. She's my little sister."
"You're raising her? Why?"
"Our parents died four years ago," I muttered. "Excuse me."
"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just.... Well, it's uncommon sir."
I frowned at him. "What do you mean it's uncommon?"
"Surely you would have put her in the foster system."
I paled. "Of course I wouldn't! She is my sister! No one is going to take her instead of me."
I glared at him. "There is nothing to argue," I snapped. "Megan is my sister. She is my world! I will do whatever it takes to make sure she is taken care of. Even if it means giving her my food and the shirt off my back!"
To my surprise, the man was beaming and held his hand out. I stared at it.
"My name is Brandon Pink," he said and I shook his hand slowly. He nodded at the schoolhouse over my shoulder. "I built this lovely schoolhouse when I was younger. My nephew is the principal."
"Oh," I said. "Er.... Thomas Buckley."
"Well, Mr. Buckley, you are the first guardian I've ever met to speak so passionately about their charge." I didn't know what to say so I put my hands in my pockets. "Where do you live?"
"I don't have a home of my own," I answered. "Megan and I live with the blacksmith who I am the apprentice of."
"Come with me," he said.
He waved his hand dismissively. "Just come with me, Mr. Buckley."
"Okay," I said slowly.
"How long have you lived her, Mr. Buckley?" he asked as we walked closer to the water.
"Nearly three months," I answered.
"Have you met many people?"
I shook my head. "Other than Ivan and Candace, just the River siblings and Daniel March."
"Very honorable people, all of them," he nodded. "But why have you not met more people?"
"I've been busy at the smithy and taking care of Megan." I sighed. "It's hard sleeping on a floor every night and she has nightmares so that doesn't give me much time in the morning to socialize before work."
"Well, hopefully we can change that," he said, smiling at me.
We had stopped walking outside of a one story house. It was beautiful with a large front yard. I waited for him to speak, putting my hands in my pockets.
"How?" I asked finally.
He nodded to the house.
"This house has been built recently by one of our old citizens. Its purpose is to hold the less fortunate. In truth, I heard of the blacksmith's apprentice," he said and I started to understand. I gaped at the house. "They said he was a hard worker. I also heard that the apprentice worked through the night to fix Sir Henry Rivers's broken sword. And, just recently, he told me that he is staying with the blacksmith. If anyone is in need of a home, it is you."
"I don't have the money for a home like this," I breathed, staring at it. "I can't even buy new shoes for dear Megan."
"This is a gift from the city," he explained, walking to the fence. "I was tasked with finding the right individual and I have found him."
I stared in wonder. "It's for us?"
He beamed. "It's for you."
Most of the afternoon, I spent time in the house. It was fully furnished and had two bedrooms. The beds were comfortable and I knew I would sleep well for the first time in many years. It took five people coming to confirm his story for me to finally accept that I was being given a home. We ended up making a deal that I would at least be allowed to pay them ten gold pieces a month. Ivan had given me two days off to get accustomed to it and prepare.
Now I was outside of the schoolhouse, eagerly waiting for Megan to tell her the good news. The front door finally opened and Megan was one of the first children out. She beamed at me and ran, her hair flying behind her, and a piece of paper in her hand.
"Tommy!" she cried and threw her arms around my neck.
I hugged her tightly, trying not to cry.
"How was it?" I asked, putting her on my hip.
"I got three gold stars!" she said and pointed at them.
"Wow," I said, impressed and started walking to our new home. "What did you get them for?"
"The first one I got for tell them my name," she said proudly. "The second was for knowing the alphabet." She giggled. "The third one was because I didn't scream when a bee landed on my head during playtime like the other kids."
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
She nodded enthusiastically. "I made a friend named Morgan. It's almost just like my name!"
"Yes it is," I breathed. We were at the house and I turned to it. "Look at that Megan."
"It's pretty. I like the flowers."
"They're wildflowers, you know," I said, my heart racing. "What about that tree?"
She looked closely then gasped like I knew she would. "An apple tree! With a swing! Just like at home!"
I smiled and kissed her cheek. I don't know how she remembered the tree but I didn't care.
"Do you like it?"
"Oh yeah!" she said, squirming a little in excitement. "Are you going to build a house like this one?"
"No," I breathed, "because this is our house."
She frowned at me. "Huh?"
I put her on the ground and got on my knees in front of her. Her frown deepened.
"Why are you crying, Tommy?" she asked, wiping my tears away.
"Because this is our house," I repeated, smiling and caressing her cheek. "We-We have a house of our own, baby."
Her jaw dropped. "Really?" she breathed.
She kept looking from me to the house then she burst into tears of joy. I laughed breathlessly and hugged her as tight as I could.
"Do you want to see your room?"
Her eyes widened. "I get my own room?"
I ruffled her hair and kissed her forehead.
"You bet you do!"
She giggled happily and ran inside. I stood to see that a lot of people - including the five I had made confirm the story - were standing around us with tears streaming down their faces. I could just smile before following Megan into the house.