Chapter one - Arrival
It was cold, colder than she had anticipated for a night in early summer, but then she was used to the city heat of Deiling. Winhill was finally coming into view ahead of them and the clock read close to 1am. As she neared the town only the lights at the entrance of the local inn were still lit but several of the houses still had soft light coming through the curtains and somehow it made the place seem that little bit more alive.
Julia Heartilly pulled into one of the few spaces painted on the path at the side of the inn, turning off the engine and removing the keys once she was parked. She looked back at her daughters Rinoa and Selphie as they slept, blanket pulled over them as they lay against the back seats. They had both stayed awake as long as they could but exhaustion and relief had over taken Selphie an hour ago with Rinoa falling asleep shortly afterwards.
She checked the bags in the seat next to her, made sure all the documents she needed for the divorce were there as well as the girls birth certificates and the paperwork from Selphies adoption. Julia t breathed a sigh of relief once she was sure it was all there and pulled the bag with it all in over her shoulder, she undid and retied her pony tale that just about held all of her hair and grabbed the keys before opening the car door.
She left the window half open as she closed it quietly behind her then locked the car. It wouldn’t be necessary to disturb the girls sleep unless they could stay here…. if the couldn’t, well Julia wasn’t above sleeping in the car with her girls. As long as they were safe and together it would be fine.
Her footsteps were muffled on the path and she pushed open the door to the inn as if expecting resistance. There wasn’t any so she headed inside. The inn was well lit for the time of night but it was empty aside from the two people sat at the main desk.
They both looked up as she entered and with a nervous smile she called on her determination and walked forwards.
It had been years since she had seen Laguna and Raine Loire but they appeared - after a moment - to recognise her. Laguna took off the glasses he was wearing and put down the book he had been reading. Raine dropped her pen down onto the ledger in front of her and blinked as if very much not expecting what was in front of her. Julia really didn’t blame them.
“I was wondering.” She didn’t know what to say and didn’t really want to explain herself. “If you have a room for me and my daughters?”
Raine looked at her for a moment then nodded slowly. “Of course.” She smiled. “Just for tonight? Or do you need a longer booking?”
Julia realised then that they had no intention of asking any questions she didn’t want to answer. She felt such a rush of warmth towards these people that she hadn’t seen since their wedding 18 years ago that she forgot to answer for a moment longer than she should have done.
“I don’t know, maybe a week or so.” She said finally.
Laguna and Raine looked at each other before he headed to a locked cabinet at the back behind the reception desk and grabbed the key to open it.
Julia settled against the desk as Raine filled out the ledger for inn bookings and Laguna returned with three keys.
“It’ll be 150 gill a night including breakfast and dinner for the room and there is no need for payment until you check out.” Raine explained, handing Julia a form to fill out. She did so and handed it back. Her eyes caught the sight of the rates board and noticed that they had offered her the room at lower rates than advertised.
“Friends and family discount.” Raine explained, taking the keys from her husband and handing them to Julia.
“Thank you.” She told them, surprised, tired and overwhelmed.
“No problem.” Laguna answered her, lifting up the partition further along the reception desk so that he was now stood beside her. “Would you like some help with your bags whilst you get the girls?” He asked, already heading towards the door and opening it for her.
“Sure.” And she lead him outside.
Rinoa woke to unfamiliar light from a window she hadn’t seen before and the muted sounds of conversation below whatever room she was currently in. Turning on the bed she could see Selphie, still asleep and snoring lightly in the bed next to hers and her mother in the third one closest to the door.
She remembered being roused from the car and helping Selphie up the stairs to the room and as she looked around it was clear that their luggage had been brought up with them.
“Good morning.” Her mother spoke quietly and Rinoa turned to her.
“Morning.” She sat up and got out of bed, smoothing back the sheets out of habit before walking quietly across the wooden floor to sit on her mothers bed. It was then she noticed that at some point in the night she must have opened her suitcase because she was wearing her nightdress.
Her mother opened her arms and hugged her, a little tighter than normal but Rinoa knew why so she returned it.
“Where are we?” She asked, moving to sit on the bed again.
Rinoa recognised that name and wondered where she had heard it before.
“I have some old friends that live here and although I haven’t seen them in years this felt like the safest place to go.”
Rinoa nodded at her mothers explanation and yawned, the clock on her mothers bedside read 9.30am. She was still a little tired but didn’t want to go back to sleep. The day felt like the first one of the summer holidays only here there was nobody’s hateful reactions to fear - they could be themselves. The thought was a refreshing one.
“You should probably wake your sister. They serve breakfast till 11 but if we leave her to her own devices she’ll sleep all day.”
Rinoa laughed and her mother smiled but she still looked wary. Everything was so fresh and it had been less than 24 hours since they’d left Deiling City but it was a step forwards and today would be another one.
Rinoa stood and moved over to her sisters bed and quickly pulled the covers off her. Selphie mumbled a half asleep protest and Rinoa laughed, nudging her sisters shoulder until she woke enough to ask in a confused and mumbled voice.
“Where are we?”
After a quiet breakfast Rinoa headed out to explore whilst Selphie finished waking up and her mother spoke with her friends.
A boy about her age was sat outside looking at something off into the distance. He was tall with dark brown hair longer than normal but still short. She couldn’t see his eyes properly from where she was but the were somewhere between blue and grey. He was, she realised, rather beautiful and because she had learned that you never get anything by shying away from it she stepped forwards and introduced herself.
“Good morning.” Rinoa said, figuring it was the best place to start. The stranger looked at her and blinked a few times as if realising it was to him that she was talking.
“Morning.” He said, sounding a little unsure.
“My name is Rinoa Heartilly.” She offered her hand to him and he reached to take it.
“Squall Loire.” He told her, squeezing her hand before releasing it.
Rinoa recognised the name at once. “You must be related to the owners of the inn then, they’re old friends of my mothers.”
“They’re my parents.” He told her, though he looked like he currently couldn’t decide whether to stand, stay seated or leave. Rinoa didn’t like the last option very much so she pulled her duster under her knees and sat next to him. She could have sworn she saw him smile as she did.
“Cool. Well the place seems lovely. Very quiet.” It was said as a compliment and he smiled again, it was only really a little quirk of his lips but it was there.
They sat in silence for a moment or so, Rinoa not wanting to continually talk at her new acquaintance and Squall for his part was just a little confused.
“How long are you staying?” He asked her at last.
“I honestly don’t know, Mom said at least a week this morning but I get the feeling it will be a lot longer than that.” She had tried to sound lighthearted but she could tell Squall had noticed the slight change in her mood. She hadn’t wanted him to so before he tried to offer her any words of sympathy she said; “Given that we’ll likely be here for a while and you’re local, how about a tour?”
He looked a bit startled but Rinoa just smiled.
“O-Okay.” He nodded and stood looking a little like he was in shock. He offered his hand to her as he stood to help her up. “We should probably start here and work our way around.” He pulled his black coat with a fur collar around his shoulders and dusted himself off.
“Sounds good to me.” Rinoa told him, glad of the rescued mood and of the company. He was clearly a little shy - which she realised was understandable given how small the town was - there probably wasn’t much in the way of friends or company.
“Where are you from?” He asked as he looked down at her. He was a few inches taller with grey eyes that she could now see in the light of the square.
Rinoa thought about it for a moment then realised it probably didn’t matter if she told him, he’d probably find out from his parents anyway.
“The Capitol?” He asked. “No wonder you think this is quiet.”
She chuckled and smiled at him, he noticed and looked away quickly which if anything made her smile more.
“Me and my sister have been in school in Dollet though, it’s quieter than Deiling and near the ocean.” She smiled to herself as she recalled her time there.
“Do you miss it?” He asked.
Rinoa shook her head. “A little but nothing more than wanting to go back some day.”
“Deling or Dollet?”
“Dollet. I don’t miss Deling - nothing to go back for.” It was a fast and honest response but she made sure to keep her tone light.
Squall must have picked up on how hard she was trying to sound positive because he responded in kind. “Best get started on the tour then.” He told her and she nodded, following where he lead her.
Julia had done her best to explain the situation in the hour and a half she had been sat with Raine and Laguna Loire. They were the only ones in the pub area that morning as their oldest daughter Ellone was working in the flower shop and Selphie was still upstairs in their room.
“How long had it been going on?” Laguna asked her.
“Years.” She told them honestly. “His political career hadn’t become what he wanted it to be and I was an easy target.” Even Julia knew that had sounded too much like a casual remark but it had become such a common place fact that she hadn’t known how else to say it.
"Why now?” Raine asked her, voice gentle and almost reaching her hand across the table to Julia. She appreciated the gesture.
“It seemed like the best time. For a few years I worried about what I was doing wrong and at one point I even though it was me…. but two years ago I started planning our escape. I made sure the only people who could access mine or my daughters money were me or my daughters. I gathered all of our papers and documents so that when we did leave we would have a clean break.”
“And that was yesterday.” Raine stated in the same gentle tone.
“Yes.” She sighed. “Although I know it looks like I’ve really thought this through I’ll admit I didn’t plan it any further than this.”
Laguna and Raine shared a look before seeming to agree on something and when they turned their attention back to Julia it was Laguna that spoke.
“Well you’re welcome here for as long as you need to be and we will help you as best we can. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you need.” He paused and seemed to think about something. “Have the girls finished school?”
Julia smiled a little, glad of a question that she could answer. “Yes, they graduated a few weeks ago.”
“So they don’t have to return to school after the summer?” Laguna was surprised.
“No, Dollet’s education system finishes at 17 instead of 18 here in Galbadia, if they want to go to university then they have a year to decide.”
Raine and Laguna nodded.
“Okay, so have you thought about where you want to settle, have you considered living here permanently?” Laguna asked.
Julia shrugged. “I haven’t thought about anywhere. But I like it here - I spent time here when I was little on holiday with my parents. It’s close enough to Timber but also feels like a world away. We could settle here, I’ll need to ask the girls of course but as soon as Selphie discovers that you are ‘the’ Laguna Loire of Timber Maniacs I’m sure she’ll beg Rinoa to let us stay.”
Raine smiled. “They’re the same age then? If they both graduated school at the same time.” Julia nodded. “Are they twins?”
She shook her head this time. “Selphie was really my niece, but when her parents were killed it left me and Rinoa as her only relatives so I decided to take her in. Fury refused to sign the papers - said if I wanted the extra responsibility it would be mine and mine alone. So I adopted her. I probably should have taken notice of the warning signs back then but I thought it was the pressure… anyway, where were we?”
Raine looked at her in a way that said she understood, because really she did. It had just come as a surprise to her to find another woman who had made the same choice that she had. Only Raine knew she had been lucky, Laguna had signed the joint adoption papers on their wedding day.
“You were planning to move to Winhill.” Laguna said with perhaps more enthusiasm than the situation warranted. Raine elbowed him in the side and sent an apologetic look to Julia who didn’t seem to mind.
“In all seriousness though, there are a few house that have recently been renovated by our neighbour in the mansion and he’d looking for buyers. One of them would be big enough for you and the girls with room still to spare.” Raine told her. “We can get you the details, that way there is no pressure on you to make a decision.”
Julia didn’t really have to think about it. “That sounds good. Thank you both so much.”
“Not a problem.” Laguna told her. “Not a problem at all.”
By the early afternoon they had covered most of the town, the main square and a couple of the residential streets. Rinoa had been happy to discover that there was a library and a book shop, small though they were it helped in her conviction that this was a good place for a new start.
Squall lead them back to his parents pub/Inn and had, albeit shyly, offered to show her the rest the next time she was free. Rinoa had shaken his hand in thanks and headed up to their room to find her sister laying on her bed.
She was dressed, with a book half open next to her but her eyes were red and her hands gripped the covers in her fists. Rinoa’s good mood fell away instantly and she closed the door behind her before walking round to selphies bed, removing her boots and lying down next to her. Selphie’s hand found hers and squeezed tightly but she didn’t say anything, to Rinoa it was another indication of how not okay her sister was.
“I met the son of the owners this morning.” Rinoa said, knowing gossip and new news always cheered her sister up. “His name is Squall, he’s our age and really beautiful. He’s a bit shy, taller than me with grey eyes and dark brown hair. He showed me around this morning and he’s promised to show me more of it soon.”
“Really?” Selphie asked, voice raw but still there.
“Yeah, I don’t think I could make him up.” She admitted. “What are the chances of finding someone like that on our first day of being here?”
Selphie chuckled, still not herself but Rinoa hoped she was now at least feeling a little better.
“I met his older sister Ellone this morning. She works in the flower shop. She seems lovely - she did mention her brother - said he was quiet but that we’d see him around. Nice to know you found him.”
“Hmm Hmm. Very nice.” Rinoa smiled and felt her cheeks heat up.
Silence fell between them again but Rinoa didn’t know what to say to break it so she didn’t. Instead she waited until Selphie finally spoke.
“Do you think he’ll come for us?” Came the quiet question.
Rinoa shook her head. “I don’t think so. Even if he wanted to it would be really hard to find us and even if he did he can’t make us do anything anymore.”
“What about mom? I don’t want her to hurt anymore.” Selphie voice cracked.
“He won’t - mom’s friends wouldn’t let him, she’ll be fine.” That at least Rinoa had complete faith in.
“I still…. I still feel as though this is all my fault.” Selphie whispered.
“How? How could this be all your fault?” Rinoa turned on her side to look at her sister properly.
“He never wanted me, if I wasn’t here….”
“How do you know that?” Rinoa didn’t understand where that had come from, Selphie sounded so certain.
“He - he told me. Used to tell me whenever he could, how much of a burden I was -”
“Stop it Sephy, stop it.” Rinoa said, hurt once again by another of that man’s actions (even she couldn’t call him her father.) “He didn’t want any of us after a while, he took everything out on me, you and mom… but he should never have said that to you - never.” Rinoa let go of Selphie’s hand and instead pulled her into a hug. “Mom wants you, I want you. You are my sister and we’re safe here. No matter what we’re safe.”
Squall stayed behind the bar that evening, helping his mother although there was nothing for him to really do. The food had already been served to their guests and the few locals that were there were quietly drinking and chatting amongst themselves.
“Julia told me you showed Rinoa around today.” His mothers voice and presence beside him startled Squall a little and he snapped his attention to her.
“She asked for a tour.” He explained, not looking her in the eye.
“And you said yes.” Raine pointed out, she didn’t have to say ‘that’s not like you.’ - it was already implied in her tone.
“Mom…” Because really this wasn’t the sort of conversation he wanted to have with anyone.
Raine chuckled and put the hand not holding the tea towel on his shoulder.
“It’s alright to get to know her a little better, there is a good chance they’re staying.”
Squall looked back over to where Rinoa was chatting and eating with her mother and sister and found his lips quirking every time she smiled or laughed. Their evening conversation had started out on what he guested had been a serious topic but it seemed far more light hearted at the moment.
“I said I’d show her some more of the town whenever she was next free.” He admitted, glad his mother was the one talking to him about this and not his father.
“I imagine she’ll be free tomorrow morning.”
Squall just nodded and Raine gave his shoulder a squeeze before letting go and heading to the other end of the bar.
“Tomorrow.” Squall muttered to himself with a smile. “Tomorrow.”