The box buzzed and the gate opened slow and steady. Kiera drove the library van forward. The familiar drive rocks crunched under the tires. In her mind she knew she could turn around at any time. She was not the little girl that had first come to the King House twenty years before, but Kiera always came back.
The compound stood empty once again. Kiera parked the van by the Big House and got out. Around the back of the van she picked out the supplies she needed. Glitter, glue, burlap squares, and twine. Sticks gathered from the grounds of the branch library. Dirt from the library graveyard. Everything needed for her craft project.
The door opened slow. Ms. Davis's eye showed in the crack. "Kiera," the elderly woman said. Long ago a much younger Ms. Davis had also said her name. Ms. Davis did not smile then either.
"Ms. Davis. I'm here for the craft time."
"Are you alone?"
"You should have let me see the children."
The door opened wide. "You know how they are with strangers."
"He was my boss."
"Still. Strangers upset the little ones." Ms. Davis slumped now. Once a towering figure, her back arched and bent. A small cane held her up, gripped by one veiny hand. The black dress fell straight, giving away no curves or semblance of the body underneath. Ms. Davis had bent but not broken. Not yet.
"Set up on the tables. I will send them out," Ms. Davis said and stepped back. The door closed with a thump.
The day had a gentle wind that blew the tall trees into a gentle sway. The picnic tables, three of them, sat in the sun. Kiera set supplies out for eighteen children. Six to a table. She expected less. Kiera kept busy, hearing the doors of the small buildings around the Big House open and close. Behind her, small feet shuffled through dead leaves.
Kiera finished placing the last of the supplies and faced the children. Six of them all dressed in the King House uniform of white t-shirts and denim plants. They were set apart by their jackets, complexions, and hair. The girl who had spoken stood front and center. Her wild and curly hair blew in the wind, hiding and accenting her face and big brown eyes.
"Hi, Maisey. Want to make something fun?" Kiera said.
The children surged forward. They wrapped around her. Keira said hello to each of them, touching the tops of their heads and laughing as they swarmed around her. She asked them questions. How was the cold? Is the food better? What's your favorite book now? All the questions children talk about with friends. Kiera took each child in turn, all of them gathered around one table. No new children at least, but at least one missing.
"What's all this?" Maisy said.
"I thought we could make something special. Where's Patrick?" Kiera said.
Maisy shrugged. "He went away."
Kiera let that go. Kids came and went here in all sorts of ways. She would stop that. She explained to the children what they would be making. She held up an example, but said theirs did not have to look exactly like that as long as it stuck to the basic shapes. For the next hour Kiera taught the children how to tie the sticks with the twine. How to bind the graveyard dirt with a little hair or spit and wrap it up in burlap.She went over how to hoop and lash the twine into shapes to hold the whole thing together. Little fingers worked, and Kiera encouraged them. They smiled a few times.
Far later, looking back at this hour, she remembered the ones who smiled.
At the end of the hour a sharp bell rang out. All the backs at the table went straight, even Kiera. She told them to go on. She could finish. They had done enough. Then she watched them walk back to the small buildings surrounding the Big House. Kiera resisted the urge to tell them to run, get in the van. She resisted yelling to them not to worry. It would be over soon.
The hard work was done for them. She gathered each sculpture with their small bags. Bound hoops and string and sticks. With care she packed them away and got in the library van and left King House. With luck and a lot of hope, she would only come back to face Ms. Davis once more.
To Be Continued…