Connor rested his head against the truck window, watching the trees pass as blurs while the old Chevy rumbled along. His head vibrated against the window, causing his brain to rattle. He sat up straight again, facing forward. He peeked at the old woman driving the truck beside him. She could barely peer over the steering wheel because she was so hunched and small. He felt another wave of frustration come over him as he thought about why he was in the truck with his grandmother in the first place.
"Frustrated, Ratonhnhaké:ton?" she asked.
Connor knew she had a sixth sense now. There was no denying it.
"Perhaps," he said with a sigh.
She grinned sadly. "I was not happy about this at first either, but this is what your mother wanted. We can't go against her wishes."
Connor nodded, gulping down the now familiar lump in his throat that formed every time someone mentioned his mother. He felt like a bowling ball had settled in his stomach as well. It weighed down everything he did. "Why didn't she let me see him before?" he wondered aloud.
"She was afraid."
Connor wasn't expecting such a point-blank answer. He stared at his grandmother, waiting for an explanation.
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "He cared more about his work than her, so she left him. She was afraid of the effect it would have on you."
Connor gulped down another lump in his throat. The bowling ball in his stomach started to roll around, causing him to feel a little sick.
This isn't how people should feel when they meet their father, he thought.
"I can still visit you and the others…right?"
She gave him an amused look. "Of course. You will just have to ask your father before leaving. It's almost an hour's drive, you know."
Connor nodded, feeling a little homesick already. He looked out the window again. "What is Saratoga Springs like?" he asked.
"You'll see," she chuckled, taking an exit off the highway.
The bowling ball in his stomach spun sharply as Saratoga came into view. Connor tried to slow his racing heart. He did a double take when he saw a horse statue planted on the sidewalk, painted many colors. As they continued down the road, he noticed at least two more strangely decorated horse statues.
Soon, he was looking out at the perfect example of a suburb. Neatly trimmed lawns and simple, quaint houses lined the streets. Akhso finally turned into the driveway of one placed in the cul-de-sac.
The small, two-story brick house was not the intimidating fortress Connor imagined his father living in. It looked like an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. The red door opened and a man walked out, standing on the porch. He had on a white button-up shirt and what looked like dress slacks.
Connor took a deep breath, grabbing his bag sitting on the floor and handing his grandmother her cane. She smiled at him before making her way toward the man who was now walking toward them.
"Haytham. It's been a long time," she said, holding her hand out.
Connor turned away, grabbing his other bags from the truck bed. He slung one over his shoulder, setting the larger suitcase on the ground. He looked at the other houses in the cul-de-sac. Some were also brick, but others had the generic panel siding. The one to his left looked like the classic white picket fence house from a TV sitcom.
Connor turned to see his father standing near the truck now, hands clasped behind his back.
Haytham cleared his throat before speaking. "May I get that for you?" he asked.
Connor nodded, slowly handing him the suitcase. Haytham gave him a small smile before walking toward the house. Connor lagged behind, not wanting to be right behind him. His grandmother walked with him, thankfully.
Connor felt like he was about to throw up.
Akhso must have seen his unease because she patted his shoulder. "You will be fine. He is a good man," she said with a reassuring smile.
Connor tried to smile back, with difficulty. He didn't want to be here. He wanted to go back to Kanatsiohareke, with his people. He wanted to be with his friends and his grandmother. Not here. Not with a man he had only heard about from his mother on rare occasions.
Connor opened the door for Akhso, letting her shuffle in before he followed behind. He wiped his shoes off on the door mat before following Akhso out of the foyer. He had to stop his jaw from dropping when he followed her into the next room.
The walls were lined with weapon racks, holding swords, axes, and many other weapons. One rack held different muskets and rifles. Pistols and other hand guns were on a rack beside them. An elaborate glass case on another wall had many trophies and awards in it, along with a fencing sword. Connor's eyes instantly wandered toward a tomahawk hanging with other axes and hatchets on the far wall. He stepped toward it, jaw dropping a little. It looked like a relic from his people. He reached up, letting his fingertips graze the bindings around the handle.
"That is a very special piece. Colonists found that shortly after the American Revolutionary War in the Mohawk valley. It's still sharp."
Connor spun around, seeing his father standing in the entryway with his grandmother. He felt his cheeks tingle a little as embarrassment settled in. He knew he shouldn't have just touched it without permission.
"I'll show you what you can and cannot touch when you're settled in," Haytham explained, not looking upset. He gestured to Connor, walking toward the living room.
Connor nodded, slowly following his father. Swords and many other weapons were hanging decoratively on the walls of the living room as well; some looked like they were from Asia. Connor felt excitement start to take the place of the dread he was feeling. He followed Haytham up the stairs, his gaze lingering on the duel swords hanging above the flat screen TV.
He walked down the hallway. No weapons were hanging up there, to his disappointment. Haytham stopped at a door, gesturing for Connor to open it. Connor touched the knob, slowly turning it. He opened the door, studying the room he assumed would be his.
A long, twin bed sat in the corner and a good-sized desk sat beside it. A dresser stood beside the closet door. A window was on the wall next to the bed, giving Connor a good view of the back yard.
His suitcase was sitting next to the bed. "I'll let you get settled. Take as much time as you need," Haytham said quietly, walking away.
Connor took a deep breath, setting his other bags on the bed. He looked around the room, studying the blank, beige walls. He couldn't wait to hang up some of his posters and decorations from his old home. He decided to do that later.
He walked out, quietly closing the door behind him. He crept down the stairs, taking care not to make much noise. He walked over to the duel swords hanging above the TV, studying the intricate Asian letters engraved on the blades.
"Do you think Ziio made a mistake? I don't know if I'm exactly the right bloke for this," he heard Haytham say.
Connor stiffened, listening in.
"She believed you were."
"She never let me see him, though. I appreciated the photos and updates she sent but she never let me come and visit. Why?"
"I do not know, but you have your chance at being a father now," his grandmother replied.
There was a tense pause with a sigh.
"He is as nervous as you are, Haytham. This is a new experience for him too. You must adjust to this life together," Akhso said, breaking the silence.
He heard his father chuckle with no humor. "I believe this is every man's worst fear."
"What do you mean? Having a son?"
"No…the fear of shodding up the job at being a father."
Connor slumped against the wall, taking in what he was hearing. The bowling ball was now sinking instead of rolling around. At least he wasn't the only one who felt awkward and anxious about this whole situation.
"Where is the confident, pompous man my daughter spoke so fondly of? Grow a spine. He lost his mother, you must be there for him now," Akhso said firmly.
Connor almost grinned at his grandmother's tone.
"She…spoke of me?"
"Yes, very much."
Connor frowned at this. His mother barely told him anything about Haytham Kenway. When she did, it was a curt response to a question about him.
He decided that his eavesdropping should stop. He snuck halfway back up the stairs, making sure to make as much noise as he could while walking back down. He made his way to where he heard them talking. He walked through the weapon room again to the other entryway. He found himself in the kitchen. Haytham and his grandmother were seated at the small table on the other side of the counter. A sliding glass door was beyond it, leading to the back yard.
"Connor, I hope you like your room," Haytham said, standing up.
Connor put his hands in his pockets, looking down at the floor. "It's okay."
"Haytham, may I speak to him alone for a moment before I leave?" Akhso asked, tapping her cane on the linoleum floor.
Haytham nodded, quickly walking into the living room.
She tapped the arm of the chair beside her, looking up at Connor expectantly. Connor gulped, sitting down.
"Ratonhnhaké:ton, I have one word of advice for you," she said, holding his hand in hers.
He nodded, preparing for the message he expected. He knew she was going to say things like, Respect your father, and, do well in school.
"Learn from each other."
Connor blinked in surprise. That…was not what he was expecting. "What?"
"Learn from each other. You both must give and take. Don't expect him to be a perfect father. And don't try to be a perfect child, either. Just be yourself. Learn from him, and let him learn from you."
Connor let the words sink in. He realized what she was saying. Haytham was in the same boat as him at the moment.
"And give him a chance. He is different from us, but he can teach you many things," she said, squeezing his hand.
Connor nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. He helped his grandmother up, leading her toward the door. Haytham was waiting beside it. He opened it for her.
Connor helped her to the truck. She got in, tossing her cane into the passenger side. He shut the door, resting his forearms in the open window.
"Ó:nen ki' wáhi," he mumbled, not wanting her to go.
She patted his cheek. "Ó:nen ki' wáhi."
He stepped away as she turned the key in the ignition. "Konnorónhkwa!" she said as she backed out of the drive way.
Connor waved as she drove away. "Konnorónhkwa," he whispered.
The wave of homesickness and anxiety hit him as the little red truck drove out of sight, leaving him in this new world.
He stuck his hands in his pockets, turning back toward the house. He saw Haytham standing on the porch, looking at where the truck had disappeared.
"She used to terrify me," Haytham said as Connor walked up.
Connor looked at him in mild surprise. Grandmother? Terrifying?
"She didn't…approve of your mother and me," Haytham said, looking sheepish.
He shook his head, gesturing to the door. "I suppose you want to know about the weapons?" he asked with a smirk.
Connor nodded quickly. He couldn't stop thinking about the room. He knew he could probably sit in there for hours.
He almost walked ahead of Haytham to the room. Haytham guided him over to the rack with the muskets and rifles. Connor crossed his arms, looking up at the various guns. None of them looked like they were made in the last hundred years.
Haytham crossed his arms as well. He pointed to the rifle on the top of the rack. "That is a musket from the American Revolutionary Era. I've shot with it before; I can't believe men used to fight with them the shot was so off."
Connor looked at him in surprise. "You were able to shoot with it? Isn't that bad for a gun that old?"
Haytham smirked. "Well, when your father is a weapons expert, you get certain privileges."
"My….grandfather, is a weapons expert?" Connor asked, almost amazed. He couldn't get over how awesome this was.
"Yes. He was a historian that specialized in war tactics and weapons," Haytham replied, looking amused.
He gestured widely to the room. "Well, what interests you the most here?"
Connor turned as he looked around the room, wondering which weapon to ask about. A large, heavy looking battle axe stood out to him. He pointed at it.
"Ah, that is a bearded axe from Norway. They were very common."
Connor could almost ignore the bowling ball as he listened to Haytham talk about the history of the weapons he pointed to.
Maybe living here wouldn't be so bad after all.
"This sucks," Connor groaned, shuffling his way to the kitchen. He was bored out of his mind. His father had to go back to the law office he worked at, leaving Connor alone. Connor couldn't remember a time when he was absolutely alone.
Connor walked over to the cabinets in the kitchen, trying to remember the one the cereal was in. He opened a cabinet. Wrong; dishes and bowls were in it. He opened another one. Tupperware this time. He opened another. Spices. He opened the last one, revealing a stash of snack foods and the cereal. He grabbed the Cheerios, shuffling over to the fridge.
Connor was almost scared to touch anything. Everything just looked so…expensive. He tentatively opened the fridge, making sure not to open it too fast. He quickly grabbed the milk, walking over to the counter. He opened the first cabinet and grabbed a bowl.
After making himself a bowl, he opened the sliding door and stepped out onto the back porch, taking a seat on the steps. It was still early so the sun had not fully risen yet. Connor sighed as he chewed on a mouthful of Cheerios. This had to be his favorite part of the day. It was peaceful.
"I've never seen you before."
Connor jumped, looking at where the voice came from. It was from the white picket fence house's yard. A girl about his age was leaning on the fence, smiling at him. Her wavy, light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She had on a blue tank top and running shorts.
She took a few steps back before running toward the fence. She easily hurdled over it. She hopped over the fence to his yard, walking toward him. The girl stood in front of him, smiling. "My name's Ellie," she chirped, crossing her arms.
Connor realized his mouth was still stuffed with Cheerios. He quickly swallowed, setting the bowl aside. "I'm Connor."
She cocked her head, looking curious. The small action reminded him of his grandmother's cats.
"So, you must be the son Mr. Kenway told us about."
Connor nodded. He didn't know what to say.
"Well, it's nice to finally meet you!" she said, holding out her hand. Connor shook it, feeling more awkward than before.
Ellie stepped back, raising her arms above her head to stretch. "Well, I would love to talk more, but I gotta get my run in. You can come if you want."
Connor suddenly noticed how well the tank top fit her. His cheeks started to tingle as a blush rose up. He picked up his bowl of cereal again, hoping it would help distract him. "Maybe tomorrow," he mumbled.
"Okay! It was nice meeting you!" she replied, easily hurdling over the fences again. Connor watched her jog away, holding his spoon in midair.
Ellie walked back into her house later that morning, still slightly panting from her jog. She wiped the sweat off her brow as she walked into the kitchen. She grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl, resting her elbows on the counter as she pulled the peel away. She took a bite, looking out the window into the backyard. The pool looked really inviting at the moment. A movement in the yard next to hers caught her eye.
She swallowed, leaning forward to get a better look. Connor was still outside, just walking around. Ellie ate as quickly as she could, hurrying up the stairs to her bedroom. She shed her clothes as she walked over to her bathroom, hopping in the shower.
She felt her muscles relax as the warm water flowed over her skin. She washed her hair and got out as quickly as she could. She threw some clothes out as she patted at her hair with a towel. She got dressed, this time in a Mumford & Sons t-shirt and running shorts. She hurried down the stairs, flying toward the sliding glass door leading to the back yard. She quickly stepped into her flip flops before walking out into her backyard. She paused on the porch, just studying Connor as he walked along.
His dark hair was halfway pulled back into a ponytail, leaving the rest to fall to the base of his neck. His back was turned to her. Ellie couldn't help but notice how tall and broad he was. He could put the biggest football player at school to shame.
She shook the thought away, hopping down to the ground. "Hey!"
He spun around, looking surprised to see her again. "Hey," he said quietly.
Looks like he's shy, she thought. She didn't blame him. She remembered moving in with her foster parents when she was still in middle school. Being in a new neighborhood was exciting yet terrifying at the same time.
"Whatcha doing?" she asked, leaning on the fence to her yard.
He slowly walked over to the edge of his fence, sticking his hands in his jeans' pockets. "Just…hanging out," he said quietly.
Ellie grinned. "You can hang out over here if you want."
He looked surprised again. "Really?"
"Yup. Just hop the fences."
He easily hopped over both. Ellie noticed that he was barefoot. She held back a giggle, kicking off her own flip flops. "So, where did you move from?" she asked, slowly walking over to the pool.
Ellie looked at him in bewilderment. "That's a mouthful," she said with a laugh.
The corners of his mouth twitched in amusement. "It's a Mohawk reservation west of here."
"I thought you were Native American! I didn't want to pry though," Ellie said, nodding. She sat down near the pool's edge, dipping her feet in.
She looked up at Connor, who was still standing. "You can dip your feet in if you want to."
He slowly rolled up his jeans, sitting down next to her. "So what was it like living there?" she asked, kicking her feet a little.
He shrugged. "We tried to be as self-dependent as we could. I helped my mother in her garden a lot. I took care of the horses too."
"That's cool. What did you guys grow?"
Ellie listened as he told her about living on the reservation. She noticed he started to slowly relax more as she kept asking questions.
"So, did you go to high school or anything like that?" she asked, kicking her legs more. The water started to churn around their legs with the action.
"Yes. I had to drive myself and other kids to the school district near us."
Ellie cocked her head, trying to imagine the huge teenager driving a huge van full of kids. "So, were you the oldest?"
"No, my best friend, Josh, is the same age as me," he answered, leaning back on his palms.
Ellie clasped her hands in front of her, taking a deep breath. "So, why are you here now? Spending some time with your Dad?"
He tensed up again with the question. She saw his Adam's apple bob as he gulped.
Ellie started to panic. "I didn't mean to pry, you don't have to answer. I-"
"My mom died a few months ago. Pancreatic cancer," he said softly, looking away.
Ellie gulped down the lump in her throat. She lost her mom to lung cancer when she was 13. "I'm…I'm so sorry."
He nodded, slowly turning his head to look at her again. "My mother wanted me to live with my father if anything happened to her, so here I am."
Ellie nodded, cocking her head again. "Well, at least Mr. Kenway won't be alone anymore. He always looks lonely when I see him."
Surprise crossed his features again. "He looks…lonely?"
Ellie shrugged. "Yeah. He looks lonely to me at least. I try to talk to him every time I see him."
Connor nodded, sitting up straight. Ellie suddenly noticed how lonely he looked. "Are you homesick?"
He looked at her in shock. "It's official," he muttered.
"What's official?" she asked, cocking her head.
"Women can read minds."
Ellie's laughter filled the yard at the statement. "What makes you say that?"
Connor shrugged. "My grandmother somehow knew I was frustrated yesterday and you knew I was homesick somehow."
Ellie giggled, flopping back onto the warm cement. "So, what music do you listen to?"
"The band on your shirt."
"You like Mumford & Sons? We are officially friends."
He grinned, looking at her. She grinned back.
Yes, she was definitely going to like having a friend around her age living next door.