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On this page, I’ve collected all the mini-stories I’ve written at various times about the characters of True Pretenses. I’ve organized them chronologically, so you can read them in order or navigate to the one you want using the Table of Contents.
Table of Contents
- Little Rafe and Ash backstory fic. More details would spoil the book.
- Ash tries to explain the timing of Lent and Easter to little Rafe.
- Little Rafe and Ash celebrate Passover.
- Little Ash and Rafe celebrate Purim.
- Little Jamie and Serena have a playdate (a crossover with A Lily Among Thorns).
- Ash mysteriously disappears and teenaged Rafe is worried.
- Imogen Makepeace shopping for dresses.
- Rafe off-page during the action of True Pretenses.
- Jamie tries to explain to Rafe where the town’s name comes from.
- Jamie POV, Rafe has come to Wheatcroft for the sheep-shearing.
- Dot Wrenn and Abby Gower go to IKEA.
- Ash and Lydia get mysteriously transported to the present day.
“Are you ready?” Ash asked Rafe. Six-year-old Rafe nodded solemnly. Ash hid a grin. “Let me hear you talk like Faige. Remember, say something in Yiddish in your head first if it helps.”
Rafe’s attempt at a foreign accent sounded more like a speech impediment than anything, but that was why Ash had chosen a Sephardic area of Kennington. So long as Ash remembered his own accent, no one would think anything of Rafe’s, and the street rat in their voices would be safely hidden.
Ash eyed the setting sun. Then he went right up to the front door, feeling very daring, and knocked loudly. He took Rafe’s hand in his and clutched it—for courage, and because it would be affecting.
It was a minute or two before a maid came to the door. She took in Ash and Rafe’s ragged clothes, and prepared to slam the door in their face.
Ash stumbled against the door jamb, so that she’d have to smash his hand and foot to shut it. “Please,” he said weakly. “I have been keeping the fast of the firstborn all day.” He smiled ruefully at her. “And maybe for a few days before that. I—” He ducked his head, shamefaced. “I was not brought up to beg, fraulein, but I remembered, all who are hungry, let them come in and eat. My father, alav ha-shalom, always said Mr. Meldola was a great man.”
She eyed him dubiously.
Ash leaned in. “Please,” he said intently. “It’s Pesach. I want my little brother to have somewhere to keep the feast.”
She looked down at Rafe. Her face softened. How could it not? “Good Pesach,” she said, smiling. “What’s your name?”
Rafe drew back shyly against Ash’s leg. They’d practiced that. People thought it was adorable. “Raphael Cohen, ma’am, and my brother is Asher. Good Pesach.”
Ash smoothed a hand over his brother’s golden head. The accent wasn’t half bad, really. The kid needed practice, but Faige would let him imitate her until he’d learned to do it.
The maid sighed. “Wait here,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“How am I doing?” Rafe asked in Yiddish when the door had shut.
Ash stayed leaning against the railing. He hadn’t exactly been lying about being hungry; if he sat on the steps, he’d be dizzy when he stood up. “Shh, Rafele,” he said. “It’s best to keep pretending for now. But you’re making me proud.”
Rafe beamed. “This is fun.”
Ash cuffed him lightly on the head. “Look pitiful!” He’d piously touch the mezuzah on his way in, he decided. “And see if you can slip a roasted egg or two in your pocket at dinner.”
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Sara requested Ash and Rafe celebrating Purim.
Rafe appeared out of the crowd at the Duke’s Place Purim fair and slipped Ash a watch. It was a nice watch.
“You’ve got a good eye, kid,” Ash said, and then was confounded by where in Faige’s gown to stash the booty. Oh, of course! He dropped it swiftly down the bodice, where it nestled between the carefully padded handkerchiefs that gave his chest the proper shape.
Ash took disguise seriously, and he was proud of how much of a girl he’d managed to look despite wearing stays that didn’t fit. He’d spent at least an hour on lip salve, kohl, and rouge.
Faige, on the other hand, had tied her red hair back in a queue at the last minute, penciled on a crooked black mustache, and been satisfied. She looked handsome as the devil, but Ash still sighed inwardly.
“But you don’t have to work today, Rafele,” he reminded his brother. “Remember why?”
“Because the goyim tried to kill us all but we’re still here!” Rafe repeated promptly.
“That’s right.” Ash tousled his brother’s hair. “Here’s another penny, do you want more hamantaschen or a ride on the roundabout?”
A roundabout looks like this.
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Sonia said: “Please oh please oh please write me a little Lily Among Thorns/True Pretenses crossover. I want to see Solomon and/or Serena meeting Ash and/or Lydia more than I want anything.”
Lydia wondered for the thousandth time why Jamie had taken such a fancy to little Lady Serena Ravenshaw, who lived on the other side of Grosvenor Square. Jamie was such a darling and so timid, and Lady Serena was a bossy child whose voice was loud and high enough to irritate the ear even at such a distance as Lydia’s bench. But Jamie ran happily after her, his answering murmurs much quieter. Lydia hoped devoutly that the two of them would not make a match of it one day.
“I don’t know if girls can be ship’s captains,” Jamie said doubtfully.
The little girl crossed her arms. “If I’m not captain, I’m not playing.” Lydia thought that about summed up Lady Serena.
Behind her, someone laughed. Lydia turned and saw a scrawny dark boy of eighteen or nineteen leaning against a fencepost to read a newspaper. She glared at him. There was nothing funny about her little brother being ridden roughshod over.
Jamie didn’t seem to mind, though. Across the square, he was giggling and saluting Lady Serena.
A boy came up to her bench. “I hope I’m not being too forward, my lady, but I need your help with my greatcoat button. It’s stuck. I think I put it through wrong.” Lydia thought he was about her age—fourteen. Well, no, he was probably a year or two younger, but he was taller than her and that was what mattered. He was also very handsome, golden hair gleaming at the edges of his hat. And he was smiling at her as if he thought she was pretty.
Lydia knew she ought to tell him not to call her “my lady,” since her father was only a baron, and that they hadn’t been introduced. But he needed help. And he had an honest face, she thought. Wouldn’t it be silly to stand on ceremony? And boring, she admitted silently. Her father’s footman was watching from across the square, anyway.
“All right,” she said, bending her head to look at his coat. The buttonhole was frayed, which she tactfully didn’t mention, and he’d somehow got the button twisted through a dozen threads in trying to get it out. She leaned closer, squinting, trying not to flush at how close they were standing. Her purse kept dragging at her wrist and thwapping into the boy’s chest.
“Are there scissors in there?” he asked, blinking.
Lydia’s face flamed. There were, actually. Had she jabbed him? “Sorry,” she said, fumbling as she pulled the strap off her wrist and set the purse down on the bench. “I’ve almost got it—”
A noise behind her made her turn. The boy in the cap was leaping the fence, her purse clutched in his hand. He took off across the road and down a side street. Lydia stood frozen, feeling so mortified at the handsome boy seeing her predicament that her cry of Stop! Thief! was not nearly loud enough to reach the road. Her footman was flirting with Lady Serena’s nursemaid by the statue of George I and hadn’t noticed a thing.
“It’s my fault,” the boy said. “I’ll catch him up.” And he took off after the thief. He must not have caught up with him, though, because he never came back. Lydia felt twice as annoyed with the pickpocket, for ruining her flirtation before it even had a chance to be one.
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Elke requested “This one Ash Wednesday, Rafe was already in his teens, and Ash has gone missing. All day. Though he returned shortly before midnight to make it back on ‘his’ day…”
I could only come up with three reasons why Ash might disappear without finding a way to send word to Rafe. One was being arrested. One was being caught by someone from their old gang. The third was this.
18 February 1801
Rafe didn’t know what to do. Ash had gone out to procure breakfast around nine o’clock, bemoaning its predicted lack of eggs, butter, or sugar (a fact for which Rafe was secretly grateful, having eaten far too many pancakes the previous evening), and had not returned.
Right now, Rafe would even welcome a tired joke about Ash Wednesday or the oft-repeated magnanimous offer to celebrate Rafe Monday the following week.
He had walked all over town and seen no sign of his brother. Tomorrow…tomorrow he would have to check the gaol. He decided that if Ash wasn’t there, he wouldn’t mention to Ash that he’d done it. Ash had been very firm practically since Rafe was born that if Rafe saw the constables take up Ash, he should run away. Now that they’d left London, there was a whole list of things he should do after that, involving a letter left at the Post Office, a name change, leaving town, &c., &c. Rafe always solemnly agreed, and never had any intention of doing it.
If Ash wasn’t at the gaol either, he’d have to start asking strangers if they’d seen him. Even if it broke their most important rule: Never draw attention to yourself.
Rafe stopped under the Saracen’s Head sign: a dark-skinned face in turban and pointed helmet. The head on the sign might have shoulders to which he still looked very much attached, but Rafe shuddered anyway. The Crusades seemed far off and picturesque to Christians, but the Jews remembered. If it hadn’t been the only inn in the village, they would never have stayed at it.
Anything could have happened to Ash.
He checked the stables where they’d slept—nothing—and went inside, hoping desperately that Ash would be waiting in the taproom.
He wasn’t, but a boy a little older than Rafe, wearing worn livery, stood when he came in. “Are you Rafe Carne?”
Rafe didn’t hesitate. “I am,” he said, hoping that meant Ash had kept up the Cornish accent.
“Your brother’s been in an accident. He’s alive but ill. Come with me.”
Rafe followed him to a respectable-looking house on a respectable-looking street, where he was let in through the front door. In the parlor, Ash was stretched out on the sofa, which had had a few sheets thrown over it to protect it from—blood? Maybe just fleas, Rafe thought hopefully.
“A—” he began, and then stopped, in case Ash had given a different name.
Ash’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of his voice. “Rafe?”
His voice was hoarse and too high, and when he tried to sit up a little gentleman in black pushed him firmly back against his pillow, saying, “You will jar the brain.”
Jar the brain? Rafe’s heart pounded. “What happened to him?”
The gentleman looked highly irritated. “My neighbor’s son lost control of his new horses. Your brother flung himself out of the way and contrived to hit his head on some stairs. As I am a doctor…” He sighed.
“My brain’s all right,” Ash said, but when he tried to smile he grimaced as if the movement hurt his head.
Panic coiled in Rafe’s throat. He rushed forward and put his own hand on Ash’s shoulder, holding him down. From this close, he could see the bloody marks of leeches at Ash’s temples. “Don’t move,” he said. “Please.”
“I apologize for the late hour,” the doctor said. “I sent for you as soon as I learned of your existence, but unfortunately your brother spoke only German all day.” His expression was quizzical.
Rafe swallowed. “Our mother was German.”
“Ah.” The doctor nodded sagely. “Well, he seems to be doing better. Are you hungry?”
Ash tried to shake his head, and winced.
“I was talking to your brother,” the doctor said severely. “You will eat nothing until I judge you are able.”
“Yes,” Rafe said instantly. Maybe that was their most important rule, instead: always take food when it is offered you. “I missed dinner in searching.”
Ash’s lips twitched approvingly.
“I will have some sandwiches brought up. Now I should like to get some sleep. You must rouse me at once if there is any change in your brother’s condition: if his breathing is labored, or if he becomes confused or forgetful. Do you know how to take a pulse?”
Rafe shook his head, so the doctor showed him how. “You see, his pulse is strong. I hope and believe he may be better presently. But it may be a few days before he may safely rise.”
His pulse didn’t feel strong to Rafe. It felt like little enough, just a tiny pressure against his fingertips. He pressed deeper into Ash’s wrist—and the beating stopped altogether. Panicked, he let go and tried again. Still there. Rafe gulped in a breath. “Can he sleep?”
“Doubtful,” Ash muttered.
“Yes, if you watch him.”
Rafe nodded. “Thank you, sir. I won’t forget this. And I’ll—I’ll work in the kitchen, if you let me.”
The doctor smiled tiredly. “It’s my profession. The expenses are being paid by my neighbor. Out of his son’s allowance, I believe.”
“I’m sorry I worried you,” Ash said softly when they were alone.
Anger stopped Rafe’s voice for a moment. What was there to say to that? “Don’t apologize for being injured,” he said finally, smiling at his brother. “It’s not as if you did it a-purpose.”
The sandwiches were brought in, and hot tea and a large slice of apple pie, and Rafe had a terrible, terrible thought. When the maid was gone, he leaned in and said very, very quietly, “You aren’t pretending, are you?”
Ash’s eyes opened wide, and then his mouth too, as if he was shocked by how much the movement hurt. He drew in a shuddering breath. “I would never,” he said, gingerly raising a hand to lay it on Rafe’s arm. “Never. Not without telling you first. You know that.”
Rafe relaxed. “I do. I’m sorry.” He sat on the floor and leaned his head on the sofa, realizing with pleasure that he was tall enough now to have to bend over rather far to do it.
Ash sighed and smoothed a hand over his head. “I can’t believe I ruined my own holiday.”
“There’s always next year.”
He could hear Ash’s smile in his voice. “Next year in Jerusalem,” he said in Yiddish. He wouldn’t have said it if he was well, but Rafe felt safe and comforted by it anyway.
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Serena asked for what it would be like for Imogen Makepeace to shop for dresses.
Imogen had worked hard to feel pretty. And most days she did. She was pretty, with tip-tilted dark eyes, smooth skin, and hair that curled without the aid of papers or curling irons.
She hated that shopping for a dress leached the confidence right out of her. She hated that she wasn’t strong enough to smother her doubts. But somehow the dressmaker’s mirror made her face all wrong and her hips too wide. She looked at her beautiful hair and all she could think was woolly.
Other girls, Imogen thought, white girls, were happy when their fathers said, “It’s time for a new Sunday dress, Ginny.” As simply, innocently happy as a daisy tilting its face to the sun. Her father had meant to make her happy, smiling at her the way he did when he’d ordered in a delicious new bean or bought her a peach at the market. She’d smiled back, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and felt her stomach curdle.
“Not everybody can carry off sage green,” the dressmaker said, draping muslin across her shoulder. “Such exotic coloring.” She reached out and actually smoothed her fingers over the back of Imogen’s hand, as if Imogen were a fine bolt of silk.
Imogen clenched her jaw and drew her hand away gently. Did she like the fabric? She thought so, but maybe she was wrong. I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, she thought defiantly, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. “I’ll take it.”
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Sonia requested “Rafe in between his appearences in True Pretenses.”
At Avery House near Nuthurst, the Lively St. Lemeston newspaper went from the master of the house to his wife to their daughter to the daughter’s maid, who immediately brought it to the housekeeper, who read it before giving it back to the maid, who then passed it to the cook, who gave it to the first footman, who—well. There was no point cataloging them all because Rafe had no intention of waiting that long.
“Miss Burgage? May I ask you for a very great favor?”
Miss Avery’s maid, a pretty dark-eyed girl who Rafe knew had come to England from India when she was ten years old, laughed. “You sound very sure of getting it, Fourth Footman Caine.” She looked up—a great way up—at him through her lashes.
Rafe smiled ruefully, wishing for the thousandth time he’d given his real name. But…he hadn’t dared. Next time. He’d be ready next time. “Did I? I’m sorry.”
“Well? What is your very great favor, Mr. Caine?”
He looked down at his feet. “Promise me you won’t repeat what I’m about to tell you.”
Her eyes widened, intrigued. “I promise.”
“I’m a Jew,” he told her. He didn’t care if she repeated it, but people liked to feel they knew a secret.
Her lips parted. But (as he’d hoped after observing that she passed over the bacon with a disdainful twist of her lips at dinner) she didn’t look horrified, only pleasantly scandalized. “Are you now?”
He nodded. “My true name is Cohen, and I—I didn’t speak English when I was a boy. I don’t read English very well. I want to read the newspaper, but I don’t—would you read it to me?”
She looked dubious. “The whole newspaper?”
He shook his head. “The local news will do. I have a brother in Lively St. Lemeston, and I want to be sure no disaster has befallen him.”
Her face softened. “Of course,” she promised.
Rafe drew in a deep breath. There was no reason to think Ash had stayed in Lively St. Lemeston. Even if—kayn aynhoreh, he thought, warding off the Evil Eye even from the unspoken thought—even if the newspaper were to say An unidentified body was found in the Arne, there would be no reason to think it was Ash.
Rafe had almost turned back a hundred times. Almost gone back to tell Ash, If you need help, send a letter to—but he hadn’t known where he was going, and if he’d gone back, he would have forgiven Ash. He refused to do that. Not yet.
He smiled warmly at Miss Burgage. “Thank you. What can I do to pay you back?”
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Laurie requested “A maid or other servant explaining how Lively St. Lemeston was named.”
“You’re sure you don’t mind us invading your kitchen, Mrs. Marsh,” Ralph said for the third time.
James didn’t like it. It was his kitchen, and of course he didn’t want to be in Mrs. Marsh’s way, but he already worried about being in people’s way twenty-four hours in the day and he wished that just once, he could enjoy some cold pie and a piece of cake in his own kitchen with his own brother-in-law and not worry about whether he was imposing.
“Of course not,” Mrs. Marsh said comfortably for the third time, which was just what she’d say if she did mind, so what was the point in asking? “It’s easier than pulling Luke away from his duties to take it up to you. And big lads like you can’t be expected to go a whole afternoon without eating! Shall I have Polly make you up some sandwiches, too?”
Ralph hesitated before saying, “No, thank you, ma’am.”
“You could have said yes if you wanted the sandwiches,” James said in a low voice when she’d moved away.
Ralph hesitated again, before answering, with a trace of unease, “I didn’t want them, only it was always our rule to never say no when someone offered us food. It still feels strange to break it.”
James didn’t know what to say to that. Oh God, why couldn’t he think of anything to say? Ralph must be thinking right now about how James had never been hungry or poor and couldn’t possibly understand.
The moment stretched unpleasantly. Ralph eyed his fork with a faint and distressingly attractive frown, his finger tapping on the wood table. Then he looked up and smiled. “I’ve been meaning to ask, why is your town called Lively St. Lemeston?”
“Um.” He ought to know this. He knew Lydia had told him. Why couldn’t he remember? “Well, the St. Lemeston is a corruption of Saint Leonard’s Town, of course. Like the forest. People hereabouts think St. Leonard was a hermit in Sussex for a while, though it contravenes the official biography.” He thought maybe Rafe frowned again, just for half a second, at ‘contravenes.’ Why had he used such a pointlessly big word for no reason? “The Livelies…I think the Lively family founded the town, or were its patrons long ago. I don’t remember what happened to them. Lydia would know.”
“If I might venture a word, my lord,” Mrs. Marsh said.
“Yes, of course,” James said hastily, and sighed inwardly at the glowing smile Ralph aimed at her.
“Please do, ma’am.”
“The Livelies and the Reeves were the oldest great families in the town,” Mrs. Marsh said. “The Livelies lived at Lenfield, before the Tassells bought it.”
“Where are the Livelies now?” Ralph asked.
“Oh, it’s a sad story. Lord Lively’s only son Richard was a Cavalier in the Civil War, and died.”
James remembered bits of this history now. Richard’s sister went to France and never came back, and some time at the beginning of the last century, the Tassells bought the land from the current owner who lived somewhere in Kent.
“Lord Lively died of a broken heart,” Mrs. Marsh said, “and his poor daughter was the heir to his fortune, but not his land…”
James blinked. He was pretty certain that wasn’t true. But Ralph put his hand on his chin and listened, so James listened too. It was a good story even if it was all nonsense. He felt sorry for the poor girl locked in her room by her cousin. He hoped her Roundhead lover was kind to her after she fled with him.
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Liewen asked for “more about Jamie (maybe about when he flirted with Rafe ^^)”.
Winter was James’ favorite time of year: a peaceful time of hothouse flowers, indoor orange trees, crackling fires and quiet hours curled up in a rug reading. Summer was loud and hot and everybody expected one to sunburn oneself picnicking and roystering about. The sun rose too early and woke one no matter how tightly one had closed the bedcurtains.
Worst of all, a gentleman’s clothes were not designed for summer. James sweated his way through July and August, his cravat wilting and strangling him, and his coat a foul-smelling prison. He preferred not even to think of the inside of his boots.
He grinned. Not today. Today they were washing the sheep for shearing, and James was in his shirtsleeves and stocking feet, waist-deep in the stream wrestling with a freshly lathered ewe. The sheep that had already been washed were drying on the warm slope of the pasture, the brilliant white of a camellia flower and as fluffy as down.
“Ha! I got you, you bastard!”
A great splash drenched James completely. He hung on to his sheep with one arm and sluiced soapy water off his face with the other. He blinked open his eyes to the sight of Ralph Cahill, wet shirt clinging adoringly to his broad shoulders and muscular arms. His blond hair, coming out of its queue, was wet enough that it only showed gold in streaks.
Cahill shook it out of his eyes, glowing with exuberance, and bent himself to the task of scrubbing his recalcitrant lamb. “You were so damn tiny when I was here in March,” he said to her. “Now look at you. Trouble on four hooves.” He caught James’ eye and laughed. “Thanks again for inviting me.”
James grinned at him even though he was afraid to, afraid that he was doing it wrong somehow, that his lust was written across his face. And beneath that, in some small kernel of himself, hoping that it was and that Cahill might be glad of it. “I know this is your kind of work.”
“So it is,” Cahill said, bringing his arm down and sending a wave of water to soak his brother, who was taking a turn lathering sheep on the bank. “Not like you, eh, Ash?”
James’ brother-in-law groaned, but he looked to be enjoying himself nevertheless. “If I think about how sore my back will be tomorrow, I’ll weep.”
Cahill rolled his eyes in James’ direction. “Shirker.”
James shook his head deploringly and had to remind himself to breathe, because he and Ralph Cahill were in on a joke together.
Maybe there was something to be said for summer after all.
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Jasmine asked for “Lydia’s housekeeper and her love go to IKEA,” which is maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever thought about.
“We’re just here to buy a new bed,” Dot said again, without much hope.
“Yes, but since we’re already here…” Abby’s brown eyes glinted. Minx.
Dot didn’t understand the great appeal of wandering through an enormous store when you could be home reading or making out in the front of the TV and drinking spiked hot chocolate, but she rolled her eyes and grabbed a shopping cart, hiding a smile. “I can’t believe you of all people like those meatballs.”
“Are you saying mine are better?”
“Of course yours are better.”
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Callista suggested: “Pick your favorite couple and have them be transported to today!”
The shop-girl regarded him tiredly. “Okay, I’m sure this reenactor thing is really fun for y’all, but there’s a line. Would you like to order a cup of coffee?”
“Yes, please,” Lydia said, but Ash put a hand on her arm.
“How much is it?”
“For what kind?” At his blank expression, she prompted, “We have drip, lattes, mochas, cappuccinos…”
“Cappuccino,” he said, because he liked the word.
“Two shillings and…?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “Two pounds and sixty pence.”
Lydia’s eyes went round. Ash smiled pleasantly. “Not today, thank you.”
“Inflation, right?” the shop-girl said sarcastically. “Look, I won’t tell the Historical Accuracy Police if you use your credit card, I swear.”
Ash’s eyes gleamed. “What’s a credit card?”
That’s all for now, but keep an eye out—I’ll be taking prompts again one of these days!
Um. Everything about this ficlet is MAJOR SPOILERS for the book. MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.
Mary Dieterich said, “I’d like to see when Ash first saw Rafe and decided he needed a brother.”
Note: this required me to reveal Ash’s birth first name. I don’t know why that feels to me like something someone might not want to know, but it does. So. You have to scroll down for the ficlet. Enjoy!
(Another note: based on paintings and prints I think a lot of eighteenth-century English oranges were much smaller than modern ones. So adjust your visualization accordingly.)
“Uch!” Izzy said. “What did you bring the goyishe brat here for? He’s louder than a church bell. Take him out and drop him somewhere.”
Herschel didn’t move.
Izzy raised his eyebrows. “You’re a little young to be going deaf.”
“Sorry, Mr. Jacobs.” Herschel reached gingerly for the screaming baby, which kept screaming, right in his ear. Izzy laughed at the look on his face.
He took the baby outside. He’d have to go a ways away, make sure they were well away from where anyone from the workhouse would recognize the kid. “Shhh,” he said, rocking the baby and hoping it didn’t throw up on him. No one looked twice at them.
The baby did go quiet after a minute or two. Herschel’s arms hurt, but he liked holding babies. They were different than holding anything else.
“Look at you! Such a good brother,” an orange seller said to him as they went past.
Herschel smiled at her.
“And what an adorable baby! Does he like oranges?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Herschel said promptly. He knew an offer of free food when he heard one. “They’re his favorite.”
She reached in her pocket and pulled out a orange with a moldy spot the size of a guinea. “The other half is fine.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You’re an angel.”
She laughed and handed over the orange. It wouldn’t fit in his pocket, so he stopped to eat it, setting the baby down beside him on the sidewalk. Beneath the skin, five whole sections of the orange were perfect and untouched. “That’s two for you, and three for me, because I’m bigger,” he told the kid. He looked at the orange section. Could the baby even eat it? He put one in his own mouth. Mmmm. Delicious. But the white outer skin was so chewy. He looked doubtfully at the baby. Did it even have teeth? He was supposed to be its brother so he couldn’t check. He peeled the skin off and held out the soft juicy middle. The baby opened its mouth and he put the orange in.
Herschel had heard a lot of talk and jokes about hangings. He knew that condemned men got a last fine meal before the end.
He looked at the baby. It looked back at him, confidently expecting another piece of orange.
He gave it one, then another, then the last one left. His own stomach hurt anyway, tight and fluttery and excited like right before a burglary.
Herschel started to smile.
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Laurie Lemmon requested “Ash on the variability of the date when Ash Wednesday is observed.”
“How do they know when Ash Wednesday is this year?” Rafe asked. “Is it always the same day in the Christian calendar?”
Ash laughed. “No, Rafele, the regular calendar is the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday—besides being a day to celebrate me, of course—” He paused.
“No it isn’t!” Rafe never got tired of contradicting him.
Ash smiled. “Mm-hmm.”
“Well, to non-believers like yourself Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It’s forty days before Easter.”
“And how do they know when Easter is?”
Ash opened his mouth to answer…and then shut it again, startled. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I just know it moves around, so they call it a movable feast. Like you!” He picked his brother up and tried to tuck him under one arm, letting him squirm free. “I can carry you around with me and when I get very hungry, I’ll eat you. Mmmm!” He opened his mouth wide and aimed for his little brother’s arm.
Rafe giggled and pushed him away, a small finger nearly poking Ash in the eye.
Ash felt a sudden pang of fear. He pulled his brother close. “I told you never to go near a Church on Easter, didn’t I?”
Rafe sighed dramatically. “Only a thousand hundred times.”
“Good. Don’t forget.”
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Beth Matthews requested little Rafe and Ash celebrating a Jewish holiday.