'You're going to miss your bus.' Catelyn called. From the kitchen window, she saw the school bus slide into view and stop against the pavement in front of the Stark house. The day was bright already, and the sun reflected off the bus windows.
Arya's voice drifted in from the living room. 'I'm not taking the bus.'
'Yes you are, girl. Sansa! The bus is here!'
There was a scrambling sound in the hallway as her eldest daughter picked her way through the family's six dogs and stepped into the kitchen without letting any of them in with her. She wore a knee length blue dress and yellow sneakers, every inch dressed for the bright sunshine. Her long auburn hair, so much like Catelyn's own, swung gently down her back.
'Aren't you going to take them for a walk?' she asked, giving her mother a kiss before taking her schoolbag off the kitchen table.
'Robb said he'll do it before he goes to work. Now go on, you'll be late.'
'OK. Have a good day!' Sansa pulled the back door open and left the house. Catelyn watched her trot happily around the house, through the front garden and out to the bus, and sighed.
'Arya! Last chance!'
'Gendry's bringing me!'
'I'll tell your father!'
There was a hiss from outside as the bus doors closed. Catelyn watched stonily as it drove smoothly away down the street. She turned towards the hallway door, prepared to give her daughter a piece of her mind when the puppy frenzy began again, and the door opened. Catelyn's jaw dropped.
'What have you done to your hair?' she muttered.
'Don't you like it?' Arya grinned, and ran one hand through the red side of her sleek shoulder-length hair. The right half remained dark, although Catelyn could swear it was a shade blacker than she was used to seeing. 'Sansa liked it.'
'Did she now,' Catelyn breathed. 'I don't know which is more surprising.'
'Me neither,' Arya said. 'Mother, calm down. Have a cup of coffee. It's only hair, it'll grow out.'
Catelyn did sit down, though she would never admit that the sudden appearance of Arya's fiery red locks had caused it.
'So,' she said. 'This new look. Will Gendry appreciate it?'
Arya shrugged. 'Maybe. I don't know if he likes red or not.'
'You mean you didn't do it to grab his attention?'
Arya glanced at her mother scornfully. 'When have I ever done anything for a boy's attention? Especially the Bull's. I did it because I thought the colour was bitchin'.'
'Sorry.' Arya said, deigning to appear contrite. 'I thought that the colour would look lovely placed upon my shining tresses.'
'Your shining tresses were lovely the colour they were,' Catelyn grumbled. 'And what will your father say?'
'Will my father notice?'
'He's not that bad.'
'At least you get to see him. You don't have a bedtime.'
'And when was the last time you ever obeyed your bedtime?'
'I obey bedtime.' Arya murmured something under her breath. To Catelyn, it sounded suspiciously like 'my bedtime'.
'Gendry had better not be late,' she said. 'Or I'll drive you there myself and honk the horn as we arrive. Maybe I'll get back into my pyjamas just in case I have to walk you into school.'
'Mum!' To Catelyn's amusement, real fear had flashed into her daughter's eyes, only to be replaced by relief as she heard a rumbling engine outside.
'He's here,' she said. 'I just have to get my bag.'
Catelyn stood up when her daughter left the room, and paced over to the window that overlooked the front garden. Her face tensed in a frown when she saw what Gendry was driving this time; a battered old Nova, at least twenty years old, that was painted – a smile flickered onto her face – red. The driver himself was stepping quickly out of the car and hurrying up the path to the front door. Catelyn barely caught a glimpse of Gendry before she heard his knock on the door. Now was her chance. She moved out into the hallway, taking care not to trample on the dogs. There was a small vestibule before the front door, separated from the main hallway by a light mesh door. Catelyn placed herself in this vestibule, closing the mesh door and keeping the dogs cordoned in the hallway. As she opened the front door, she changed her face to something much more unwelcoming. It was the same face she always remembered Ned's mother wearing when they met.
'Gendry.' she said coldly. 'It's very early to be knocking for my daughter.'
'Good morning, Mrs Stark,' Gendry mumbled. The boy was tall for his age, hitting nearly six foot and only barely seventeen. Catelyn, not a tall lady, felt her neck ache just looking at him yet managed to maintain her imperious gaze. The three-step difference between house and street level helped. Gendry stuffed his hands into his pockets and tried to look her in the eye. He failed. Casting his eyes in the space around Catelyn, he asked, 'Is Arya in?'
'Oh,' He coughed. 'Um, can I – can I'
'Can you what?'
'It's just, I'm giving her a lift to school, Mrs Stark.'
'Oh, are you?'
Catelyn pursed her mouth, and stepped to one side. Arya hopped nimbly down the last few stairs, and bent to quickly say goodbye to the dogs. Her mother and Gendry watched as she cupped each puppy's head in her hands and growled lightly at it, before scratching the mother behind the ears and stepping away.
'You're half a dog yourself,' Gendry said. Catelyn's eyes flashed in his direction and he cringed, but Arya laughed.
'At least I'm not a complete mule,' she said. She slid into the vestibule and hugged Catelyn .
'Bye, love. Have a good day.'
They detached from each other and Arya left the house, walking quickly ahead of Gendry towards the car.
'Bye, Mrs Stark.' He called over his shoulder.
Catelyn watched them walk down the path. Gendry had caught up to her daughter. He said something to her, and she shouldered him to one side affectionately, her reply lost to Catelyn. He laughed, head thrown back, and pushed one arm out like a piston to send her daughter reeling sideways. She careered across one side of the lawn, nearly losing her balance, and Gendry paused. He cast a quick glance back to the house, to Catelyn watching from the porch, and an expression of sheer panic crossed his face.
Unfortunately in doing so he took his eyes from Arya. Her equilibrium restored, she seized the opportunity and flung herself across the short space between them to tackle her friend around the waist, sending both of them flying across the path and onto the grass. Catelyn rolled her eyes but could not stop her smile as she watched Arya grapple with the boy who was twice her size, and felt a faint twinge of pride when Arya fought her way on top of Gendry. He lay stomach down on the ground, and was shouting 'You're the queen!' as she twisted his arm behind his back. Arya let go and hopped up. Dusting her hands, she waited for Gendry to get up before walking with him towards his car. Their voices drifted back to Catelyn, animated noises debating one of their hobbies or interests. As they got into the car, Catelyn shut the front door and went back into the house. The cacophony of whining and barking resumed, and she blew out a frustrated huff.