You’d be right to think that the date up there is not today’s date. But I don’t have a better way of defining what I’ll be sharing with you at the moment. Since I got home, I’ve been writing about 2000 words a day on my Miska project. What follows is part of what I wrote on, you guessed it, the 7th. It is first draft material, which means that I haven’t done more than look at it and think that it needs editing. Enjoy!
Dinners at home became a somber affair. Or maybe, Miska wondered, they’d been this way for a while and she simply hadn’t realized. Her mother had been more quiet than usual ever since the fire that destroyed the sail loft. Miska had thought it was because she was tired from working harder to reestablish the family after that disaster, but maybe it was this loan looming over her that had kept her so quiet and upset.
Before meeting Mistress Mariselle, Miska had been happy to gossip with her sisters over dinner. Her father’s favorite jokes and stories, well worn though they might be, hadn’t felt like a desperate attempt to keep up appearances. Now she wondered how long he had been trying to keep her mother’s spirits afloat. It couldn’t be easy. Her mother rarely served herself a large portion, and often simply picked at her food.
As they finished cleaning up after dinner and Miska stepped towards the door to visit Haubert, she froze. She looked down at the scarf in her hands, made for her by her oldest sister, and thought about the money that she’d spent in the past month at The First Blood. How much of that might have helped her mother with her payments? The tips she got had been hers ever since she started working odd jobs. The wages went to the family, but she could do as she wished with anything else she made on the side.
But could she really hold on to those if it meant the difference between her mother being able to make her payments and not?
She could see her father and mother standing next to each other by the stove, speaking in hushed whispers. Her mother looked at her, and for an instant Miska could see weariness and fear written across her face. Then her mother turned away and it was gone.
Miska shivered. Moving with a determination that she forced herself to feel, she wrapped her scarf around her neck and strode out of the house.
The First Blood was full, as usual, and the crowd was in a good mood. Haubert waved her to the bar, his face smiling as always, and he set a mug of her favorite mulled cider in front of her as she arrived. Miska looked at it, sighed, and pushed it back towards Haubert.
“No cider?” Haubert sounded surprised.
Miska shook her head.
Haubert leaned in a little closer, looking her in the eyes. Miska tried to smile, then looked away.
“What’s wrong?” Haubert settled on his elbows. He held up a hushing finger to a man down the bar asking for another round.
“I couldn’t pay you for it.” Miska deflated, her head resting on her arms.
Haubert stood back up with a short bark of laughter. “Couldn’t pay me for it! That’s a good one. I know you’re good for it Miska, you always have been. Besides, can’t I spot a favorite customer one drink?” He started filling beer mugs, passing them down the bar.
Miska smiled, just a quirk of her lips. “Yeah, well. I can’t pay you anymore at all.”
Haubert shook his head, and finished filling the other waiting orders. “Here.” He pushed the cider back towards Miska, “This one’s on me, and why don’t you tell me more. Has your dad done something stupid? I hadn’t heard anything, but Alonso…”
Miska guiltily sipped from her mug. “No, it’s not my father.”
Haubert’s eyes widened. “Are you in trouble? Do you owe someone? Don’t tell me you’ve started gambling.”
Miska shook her head again, then beckoned him in closer. “No.” Haubert leaned in to hear her over the sound of the bar. “You remember how my mom’s sail loft burned down?”
“Sure, sure. It was sad news. But she’s been rebuilding her business, hasn’t she? She got most of her old customers back I heard.”
Miska shrugged. She felt a twinge of guilt. If she were a better daughter, like her sisters, maybe she’d have a better idea of how her mother’s business was really doing. Instead she spent all her time doing everything she could to avoid sewing. “That’s not really the important part. Or it is, but…”
Haubert spun his finger in circles. “Go on.”
“She had to take out a loan.” Haubert lifted an eyebrow.
“In order to get the money to get a new loft and get things started again, you know.”
“But now…” Miska took a slow sip of cider. She’d come here to tell Haubert, to get his help, but asking was harder than she’d thought. She pushed through it, forcing it out in one go. “I think she can’t repay the loan. The woman who gave it to her, Mistress Mariselle, who lives out in one of the big estates, she said that Mom only repaid the interest on her loan. ‘Didn’t touch the principle,’ which I think is bad. And now, well, all I can think of is that I should have been giving her all the money I’ve made, even the tips. She’s so quiet these days, I think she’s worried all the time. I don’t know what to do. I can’t make enough money to help her out, can I? How could I do that when she’s making all the money from her sail loft and that still isn’t enough?”
Haubert settled back, a grim expression on his face. It made the scars on his cheek stand out, paler than usual against his skin. Miska felt empty, like she’d just poured out her thoughts and didn’t know what else was left inside.
“Well.” Haubert took Miska’s empty mug and refilled it. “This one’s on me too.”
Miska sighed and accepted it. She felt bad taking it, but she knew that refusing would hurt Haubert’s feelings. She didn’t want to do that when he was one of the few people she felt she could ask for help.
“But maybe I can help you.” Miska’s eyes widened in surprise. “I could use another person helping me out around here. Have you considered working for me? It wouldn’t be much, but it would keep you occupied here after your usual hours and you could eat and drink for free.”
Miska smiled. “Done.”