The Day Before
Tap-tap, tap. All’s well. Kanin snuggled deeper into the feather pillow, inhaling Olivia’s scent, pulling her closer. So soft, so warm …
Tap, ta-tap! He jolted awake. K! They were calling him on the pipes; he had overslept! And today of all days; he had so much to do … Flinging the quilt aside, he swung his feet to the floor and began searching for his boots. Wait … the pipes were quiet. Olivia was not in bed, but heating porridge at the brazier. Luke sat near her feet on a braided rug, playing with an old tin pot, a wooden spoon in his hand.
Olivia turned with a smile. “Sorry, did he wake you?”
“Uh. Did he tap my name? What time is it?”
“Just after seven; you have at least an hour. Luke, did you tap Daddy’s name? What a smart boy!”
Luke beamed at her. “Babadawa!”
Kanin’s heart twisted with love for both of them, the feeling now familiar, yet still poignant. “I’ll be taking him to Pascal to apprentice soon, at this rate.” It was no wonder Tunnel babies learned pipe-code almost before their first words, hearing it morning, noon and night as they did, but Luke’s random tappings couldn’t be more than that. Or could they? He had probably heard his father’s “K” more often than any other pattern, used in every message relevant to him, as it was.
He pulled on his work pants, still slightly dusty despite the good shaking he had given them yesterday. Rock dust was his occupational hazard, and somehow Livvie kept their small chamber scrupulously clean, no thanks to him. He didn’t know if she’d be excited about the small mudroom he’d carved just inside the entrance to their new chamber, but he was. Although she’d never said a word about it, he knew she had better things to do than clean up after him every time he came home.
Dressed in a flannel shirt and grabbing his jacket, he accepted the thermos of tea Olivia gave him, kissing her as well as Luke, now installed in a high chair and lightly smeared with oatmeal.
“Don’t you want some? There’s plenty.” Olivia laughed softly as she spooned the cereal dribbling down Luke’s chin back into his open mouth. “He hasn’t figured out that he can’t eat and babble at the same time.”
“Some people never do. No, thanks, Livvie. I have to run a few errands before work. I’ll see you later.”
“Bye, love. Have a good day.”
Cullen was just arriving at his shop. “Don’t worry, it’s ready. Dry, sealed, and polished. Do you want it now?” He fetched a small dark music box from a shelf, offering it in a half-gloved hand, his fingers stained with every color from mahogany to walnut.
“It’s beautiful.” Kanin opened the intricately carved lid. “You did so much more than I asked,
Cullen. Thank you.” The delicate melody floated through the shop. “Still plays, too.”
“Yes. Mouse did a good job salvaging the works.”
“If it’s all right, I’ll come and get it tomorrow. I don’t want to risk Olivia finding it. But we’ll get the bed out of your way today. I appreciate you keeping it here.”
“I touched that up a bit, too. It’s a quality piece. Just needed some paint.”
“Thanks for everything, Cullen.”
“Sure thing.” The woodworker replaced the music box on the shelf, hiding it deftly behind a pair of wheeled horses and some unfinished alphabet blocks. “She deserves it.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
He spotted Rebecca just exiting the dining chamber. “Bex!”
She turned, slowing as he caught up, falling into step beside her. “Good morning, Kanin. I’ve got another box packed up for you. Mostly pillars, left over from last night’s concert. All partially burned, I’m afraid. Normally, they would go to William, but he hasn’t noticed. And I’ll find some others for him before he runs short.”
“As long as they last a few hours. I know I’m asking for a lot.”
“About six months’ worth of candles, on average, for two people.” She smiled at him. “But I’m happy to help. It’s going to be spectacular. And I know you won’t let anything go to waste.” They had now reached the chandlery. “Come, let me show you something.” Unwrapping a cloth bundle, she pulled out a dipped taper, the snow-white wax fading to pink and then to cherry-red at the base. “For next Winterfest, maybe. It’s a long way off, but I start with the prototypes right after the last one ends. Can’t wait, I reckon.”
“It’s stunning, Bex.” He touched the slender candle with a rough forefinger. “Beeswax, too. Those will burn clean.”
“Yes. I probably won’t find enough for all the Winterfest candles, but a Helper sent down enough for these. I couldn’t resist trying a few, and this is my favorite.” She returned it to its wrapper. “But here’s what you came for. I didn’t mean to make you late.”
Kanin forestalled her attempt to lift a large box, hefting it easily to his shoulder. “I’ve got it. Plenty of time. Thanks, Rebecca.”
He just had time to drop the box off at the new chamber before meeting Mouse and John at today’s work site.
“Kanin. Miss breakfast?” Mouse didn’t approve of missing meals.
“It’s okay, Mouse. I was busy.”
“Busy with surprise!”
“Just one more day, Mouse. Don’t tell anyone, remember?”
“Mouse can keep secret.” The young man looked hurt. “Told no one about music box.”
Kanin clasped Mouse’s shoulder. “No, you didn’t. Just don’t forget, okay?”
“Let’s go, guys. Got a barricade to make.” John was today’s foreman, charged with reopening an old tunnel connection and installing a false wall on the present one. “If we hurry, we can knock this out early.”
As John and Mouse moved the stones blocking its entrance, Kanin chipped away at the walls of the old tunnel to smooth them. This tunnel hadn’t been open in the fifteen years he had lived here, but there were so many, that could be true of any number of them. He enjoyed chiseling the rough rock until the sharp edges and projections were gone. He wasn’t sure if anyone else noticed it, but he had a technique of his own, a signature style, that he often recognized at old job sites that he’d forgotten working on. This one had been carved long ago, and by no hand that seemed familiar. Possibly before any of the current tunnel residents were even here.
Before I was, anyway.
Before I was here. Before it happened. He paused for a breath. Why did I run?
He knew the answer. He was young and scared. I was wrong. He knew that now, too. But it was too late to make things right. He’d have to live with it, forever. There was no atonement for him, no end, ever, to the feeling that he didn’t deserve what he had. Olivia. Luke. The Tunnels. Friends. Trust.
Some mistakes couldn’t be fixed. But every day he wished there was a way.
“Lunchtime,” John announced in his booming voice as he dusted his hands on his heavy
dungarees. “We’re ahead of schedule. I’ll just eat my sandwich, and then I’ll give you a hand with that bed of yours.”
“Shhhh! Secret!” Mouse hissed in panic.
“There’s nobody here but …” John trailed off as Olivia came shyly around the tunnel bend.
“Livvie!” Kanin hoped she hadn’t heard anything. He didn’t think she had. Mouse always heard
things before anyone else, except Vincent, of course.
“I brought your lunch, Kanin.” Her beautiful dark eyes smiled tenderly at him.
“Thank you. I could eat a horse.”
“Sorry, it’s vegetable stew. And a cheese sandwich.”
“Perfect. Where’s Luke?”
“He’s with Mary. Down for his nap. I’m heading back there now.” Olivia often helped Mary with
the nursery, depositing Luke with the other babies as she pitched in. “It’s rare we get them all to sleep at once.”
“You must be a good luck charm. I know you’re mine.”
“Hush, Kanin.” With a glance at Mouse and John, who had retreated around the half-built barricade to eat their sandwiches, she kissed him lightly on the mouth and turned to go.
After eating, he felt better. Everything was working out, and Livvie didn’t suspect a thing.
“Ready, John? She’ll be busy at the nursery now, so it’s safe.”
“Mouse help, too.”
They carried the bed frame in pieces to the new chamber, and Mouse and Cullen followed with the new feather mattress that Sarah had made. Sarah herself followed, laden with fresh sheets and a beautiful white coverlet, chiding them all to be careful. Once in the new chamber, it took only five minutes to assemble the frame, and Sarah shooed them away as she made the bed.
“It’s amazing what you’ve done, Kanin. You’re a hard worker, and no mistake.” This was high praise coming from Sarah. She worked endlessly, sewing, quilting, washing and mending. Kanin couldn’t remember ever seeing her sit down without a piece of sewing in her capable hands. “And you cleaned it up nice, too. Hardly a bit of dust left. A man in a thousand, you are.”
He allowed himself a moment of satisfaction, gazing around the new chamber with a critical eye. It had taken months. Stolen moments while Olivia and Luke slept, lunch hours, extra hours after work, whole days when he wasn’t on the community work detail. And now, his signature carving was everywhere on the walls of this chamber. “My gift to her,” he murmured.
“Yes, yes. I’ll finish up here. You’d better be getting on.”
“Thank you, Sarah.”
He followed Mouse and John back to their work site. He had thanked so many people today, and knew there were more to come. Catherine had agreed to find Livvie’s favorite flowers, above, and to take Luke to Mary for the night. Vincent had offered to do any last minute preparations while Kanin brought the unsuspecting – he hoped – Olivia to the chamber for the first time. It was truly a community, and it humbled him to be part of it. I don’t deserve it. He quashed the voice in his head. Would it ever go away?
They finished the barricade in good time, having cleared the old tunnel before lunch. Kanin headed back to the new chamber, now deserted, to begin placing the candles in their alcoves. There were several full boxes like the one he had collected from Rebecca that morning, but there still weren’t enough. He’d have time to pick up one last batch tomorrow. She’d been saving them for him for weeks. What could he do in return? Perhaps, after all this was done, he could carve out new shelves for her in the chandlery.
Placing the last candle, he moved his hand along the wall past the finished rock to the rough stone beyond the chamber. He could see just where he needed to carve, to smooth. Luke’s chamber. He itched to begin it now. Just a few strokes. As he reached for his chisel, six-thirty! rang out on the pipes.
He’d lost track of time. Livvy would be waiting, and he hadn’t even washed up. Hurrying to the nearest bathing chamber, Kanin scrubbed his hands and face, and dropping his tools outside the dining chamber, managed to find his wife and son inside.
“Hey, what happened to you? Luke was hungry, so we didn’t wait.”
“Sorry. I forgot the time.”
“You’re here now. I’ll get you a plate.”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll get it. Like those peas, Slugger?” He ruffled Luke’s hair and was treated to a gummy green smile in return.
“Kanin. There’s a slice of roast beef left.”
“Thanks, William. It looks great.” He accepted the plate, not objecting when the gruff cook added a heap of peas, carrots and potatoes. Rejoining Olivia, he found her deep in conversation with Vincent.
“He’s got four teeth already, and working on two more. But he seems to be having an easy time of it, according to Mary. He just drools and gnaws on things a lot.”
“Both worthy pastimes.” Vincent’s loving blue gaze fixed on Luke, who squealed delightedly and
flung two partially mashed peas in his direction. “I’ll leave you to yourselves, now. I know what it is to have too little time together.”
Kanin swallowed a hearty mouthful. “Give Catherine our love.”
“I will.” With a whisper of swirling cloak, the big man was gone.
Kanin carried an extremely sleepy Luke back to the tiny chamber they all shared. While Olivia put the baby to bed, he gathered his nightclothes and towel and headed to the bathing chamber once more. Now for a proper soak. Tomorrow was an important day, and he may not have much time after work. Scrubbing under his nails, Kanin laughed ruefully. They’d have to do. Stonecutting wasn’t known for being easy on the hands.
Dressed in pajamas, he bundled his grimy work clothes and carried them back to the chamber where Olivia was already in bed, reading by the light of three tall candles. He placed his work pants and boots inside the square bin he utilized in an attempt to keep the dust contained; his shirt and the rest went into the laundry basket. Sliding the bin under the bed, he slipped in next to Livvie. He’d hung a clean pair of pants and a fresh shirt inside the cramped wardrobe, ready to change into after work detail tomorrow. Had he forgotten anything?
“You’re tired, love. Go to sleep.” Olivia was studying him over her book. “Are you worried about something?”
She really didn’t seem to suspect a thing. Had they all really managed to keep this secret, for months on end?
“Not a thing.” He quirked a smile in her direction, and took her pretty, soft fingers in his rough-nailed, albeit well-scrubbed ones. He was tired, and felt sleep stealing over him. “Everything’s just right.” It would be, at least for a day. He’d make sure of it.
“Good night, Livvie.” His eyes were closing.
“Good night, love.”
He’d make sure.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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