“Don’t cry,” murmured a gentle voice at her shoulder. “Please don’t cry.”
Honey turned, startled to find that she wasn’t alone. The breeze that toyed with her hair blew from the river, and had not brought her his scent, and the sound of the river had masked his soft steps. Newt wore his tunic hood up and over his snow-white hair, protecting himself from the afternoon sun that filtered through the forest leaves. His expression was so painfully earnest that Honey had to swallow back the bitterness that wanted to well up at the sight of the boy.
“I can cry if I want to,” she snapped, unable to restrain herself fully. “I’ve got every reason in the world! My lifemate has left me. My daughter blames me for having gone into wrapstuff, when she was the one who helped decide to put me there. My father is dead. Everything in the world has changed, and I can’t even get Mooncrier to want me. A wolf won’t even have me, and I even went and cut my hair!” Fresh sobs wanted to burst forth and she struggled against them, wiping her face fiercely with both hands. “I’ve got every right to cry, so don’t you try and stop me!”
Sympathetic tears were pooling in Newt’s pale eyes – and it was so very hard not to hate the boy in that moment, since he had been in wrapstuff for even longer than she had been, and he had arguably lost even more. Just his gentle, sweet face was a rebuke, belittling her losses by comparison to his own. “I know how you are feeling—“ the child tried to say.
|Illustration by Melanie D.|
“Don’t you say it!” she snapped. “Don’t you dare! I came out here so I could have my cry in peace, so go away!”
Newt looked as if he had been slapped. But instead of leaving, he knelt and plucked a coneflower from the patch growing on the other side of the log Honey sat on. The little blue bloom was late in its season, and had lost a few petals. But Newt still offered it to her, as though the bruised little flower were an entire springtime bouquet.
“You’re so very pretty when you smile,” Newt said. “You’ve a smile like the sun. You could grow little flowers with that smile.”
Honey stared at the boy for a moment, shocked by his words. “My father used to say that to me,” she whispered. “He used to say that to me to cheer me up when I was a little girl.”
Newt beamed at her. “Our mother used to say that to Birdcatcher and me and Glint. You look so much like my brother Birdcatcher sometimes. You have his smile, too.” He continued to hold out the coneflower, like a peace offering, or an offering of friendship.
Honey accepted the flower cautiously. It was wilted in the summer heat, but when she breathed in, she caught a taste of its sweet scent. “I won’t call you Uncle,” she said, wiping the last of her tears from her eyes.
Newt grinned. “That’s fine. Just smile for me. I can see Birdcatcher again when you smile, and that makes your smile the most beautiful thing ever.”
Honey knew she was being sweet-talked, but she couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t help but smile.
Newt pulled the sleeping fur over his head. “Go away!” he snarled at whomever had invaded his den.
Instead of retreating, the footsteps grew closer. A warm weight settled on the bed beside him, and a hand rested tenderly against his back.
**Go ahead and cry,** Honey sent to him then. **Just let it out. There’s no shame in a good cry when you need it.**
That gentle permission was enough to break the composure Newt had been fighting to keep. He broke into tears and wept fiercely, hugging his sleeping furs around himself like a cocoon. Honey sat on the edge of his bed-shelf throughout his stormburst of emotion, stroking his back and, at one point, sending away a curious tribemate who had come to investigate the sounds of Newt’s sobs.
At length, the flood passed. Newt was left spent and sniffling against his tear-wet sleeping furs.
**Do you want to tell me?** Honey locksent. There was nothing demanding about her request – it was simply an offer made without judgment.
“My fathers are icefishing.” Newt took a deep, shuddering breath, and struggled for a moment before continuing. “Greenweave caught a big fat eel. It’s not the right season for them — he shouldn’t have been able to get one at a hook, they don’t eat much during the winter. But he caught one. And Cloudfern was talking about braising it—“ Newt stopped, unable to continue, and ground an angry fist across his eyes.
Somehow, Honey knew. “In Starskimmer’s blackberry honeywine?”
Newt nodded, although he knew she couldn’t see him through the furs. “Cider used to brew it, too,” he whispered.
Honey stroked his back gently. “Father used to say that it was grandmother’s favorite dish,” she said.
Newt closed his eyes against those words. The memory of the scent of mead-braised eel was enough to conjure his mother’s face: Lacewing laughing with anticipation as she skinned the eel Turtle had brought her, while Strand drank from the jug of honeywine he had brought up from the storage dens below. The vivid memory had gutted him as deftly as though it were that skinning knife.
“We’ve been out of the cocoons for more than three summers now,” he said, struggling against a grief he had thought he’d mastered.
“So you shouldn’t still be grieving?” Honey might have laughed at him. He was grateful that she did not. Instead, he felt the shift of her weight as she leaned over the bed to whisper near his ear. “I still do it, too. I’ll bet you Fadestar does too. I’ll bet Brightwood does it, too.”
Newt sniffled and sat up. He could well image Honey and Fadestar hiding in a dark den and crying like he just had. He wasn’t so sure he could imagine Brightwood doing it, though. “You think?”
Honey’s green eyes seemed to sparkle. “I’ll bet she does. When no one can see her do it. But there’s nothing wrong about it, is there? We love who we’ve loved. I like to think they know it, and they appreciate it that they’re still missed. I know I’d appreciate it. Wouldn’t you?”
Newt thought about that. He wasn’t so sure he’d ever want to see his mother crying for him. But he did feel warmed at the thought of her remembering him, and loving him still, even though he was gone.
“Oh, there we are,” Honey said. She reached out and caressed his cheek, her fingers slipping cool and dry against his damp face. “There’s the smile I was waiting for. A smile like the sun. You could grow flowers with that smile.”
Newt looked at her in disbelief at her words… and then he felt himself smile again. Honey smiled back at him, her green-yellow eyes as satisfied as a cat’s.
“Don’t be shamed to cry, uncle,” She pressed a kiss against his forehead, then rose to leave.
“But know that when you smile, you look just like my father. And to me, that’s just about the most beautiful thing. Ever.”
Newt knew he was being sweet-talked, but he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t help but smile.
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