“You’re not old enough,” her father protested weakly. They all knew it wasn’t true. They all knew it didn’t matter if it was true.
“You’re not well enough,” her mother protested, more strongly. They all knew that, too, was not true enough to matter.
“It should be me,” her brother muttered softly. “Tisa, it’s not safe.”
“It’s never safe, Farold. It’s never safe for any of us.”
She slapped her hand over her mouth the moment the words were out, but it was too late. All of them – her parents, her older brother, her younger sisters, her maiden aunt, especially her maiden aunt – reeled as if she’d hit them.
She supposed she had, in a way. She only had to bear it, and die, or not. They had to live with sending her, and live with whether or not she came back. Watching her friends’ families, she wasn’t sure, truly, which was worse. Watching her friends who had come back, she wasn’t sure which she wanted.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, and hugged them all, first Farold, who was the most stung, Farold who had always protected her from everything, then her parents, and then, and perhaps most importantly, Aunt Eunice, who had come back… who had, at least, come back in body. “I’m sorry, all of you,” she said, more loudly this time, as she hugged her little sisters. “I’m just scared.”
“We’re scared, too,” her mother admitted. “We’re frightened for you, Tisa.”
“I know.” She rubbed her wrists under the tooo-short sleeves of the ritual robe. “But there’s no use in it. I’m scared, you’re scared, we’re all scared and angry. And…”
“And there’s nothing we can do but talk,” her father agreed. “So let us talk.”
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