Aubrey ate her syrup-drenched pancakes in silence while Tom and Steve argued in hushed tones on the other side of the kitchen next to the coffee maker. They were both making themselves a cup—Tom had extra cream and no sugar, Steve liked his black with four spoonfuls of sugar.
“I know she’s supposed to be 18 when we tell her,” Tom whispered, “but—that’s enough with the sugar.”
“I always put four spoonfuls in, you know that.” Steve countered, his voice slightly raising.
Aubrey glanced at them. They clearly weren’t talking about her anymore.
“I know, but it’s not good for you.”
“You know what? I’m going to add a fifth spoonful in. Just for you.” Steve indeed added an extra spoonful and Tom gasped.
“Guys?” Aubrey called them as she cut up her third pancake. She reached for the syrup in the middle of the table and drowned that pancake in it just like the first two. She then turned to look at Tom and Steve, who were both coming back to the table, though they were glaring at each other.
Steve sat down at the head of the table and Tom sat in the middle to Aubrey’s right side. Tom sat forward wrapping his hands around his mug while Steve leaned back with one arm hung over the back of his chair and his other hand fingering the rim of his mug.
Aubrey put a bite of pancake into her mouth. She chewed it for a moment and when it was mostly mush, she began to talk. “So… What’s going on?”
Tom turned to look at Steve and took a sip of his coffee. Steve responded by groaning and rolling his eyes. Then he sat forward and looked Aubrey in the eye.
“Listen, Aubrey, we’re not supposed to tell you any of this until you turn 18. So you can’t repeat this to a soul, do you hear me?” Steve said sternly.
Aubrey nodded intently. She put down her fork leaning closer. They were alone in the kitchen, in the entire house even, but Steve was speaking in a lower tone for some reason. Whatever was going on was really important.
“Tom and I are your guardians for a reason. I mean, in the world’s eye we’re your guardians because your parents aren’t here to take care of you. But in…” he paused to think for a moment. “…Certain eyes, we’re your protectors.”
Aubrey furrowed her brows. She leaned back in her chair again. “Huh?” That one extra spoonful of sugar could really do a number on a guy, apparently.
“We and your parents have worked together on a lot of quests.” Tom tried to clear things up, but it wasn’t working.
“Quests?” Aubrey blinked.
“They trusted us, we trusted them. When they had you, they felt the only logical protectors for you would be us.” Tom explained. “So, in your world we’re your parental guardians. But in our world, we’re your protectors. Which is essentially the same thing, but it’s a little more involved.”
Aubrey stared at Tom puzzled. She then looked at Steve as though he would help, but he only averted his eyes away and took a big gulp of his coffee.
“So… I have questions.” Aubrey said slowly.
Tom nodded his head leisurely. “We figured you would.”
“First,” Aubrey paused to think. “Can we start from the beginning?”
Steve stood up and placed his empty coffee mug into the sink. “This is stupid. We should have waited until she was 18. We are so going to be in trouble for this…”
“Aubrey has a right to know. All the kids in her situation do.” Tom sighed. Then he downed the rest of his coffee.
Tom left the table and placed his mug in the sink over Steve’s shoulder as he worked on washing the dishes.
Aubrey stood up as well, but remained right by her chair. She cleared her throat loudly and both Tom and Steve casually turned their heads in her direction.
“Is this all I’m getting? We need to seriously talk about this! You can’t just drop a bomb like that and then go wash the dishes.” She glowered at the two men who had cared for her practically her whole life, who had supposedly been protecting her from whatever.
Steve turned the faucet off and ripped off a piece of paper towel to dry his hands. He dropped the towel into the sink turning around leaning against the sink. Tom pouted his lips glaring at Steve, but said nothing as he picked up the used paper towel and tossed it into the trash.
Steve folded his arms over his chest and grunted Aubrey. “Alright, fine. Ask us anything and we’ll answer it as best as you can.”
Aubrey shrugged her shoulders throwing her arms up dramatically. She didn’t even know where to start.
“What are protectors?” she asked.
“We protect you and watch over you and guide you and stuff like that.” Steve shrugged.
“Why did mom and dad choose you two?”
“We told you, we’ve done a lot of quests with your parents and Tom and I were the only ones they felt they could trust.”
“What do you mean by quests?”
“Uh, adventures? Journeys? Missions? What are they teaching you in school these days?”
“Why did my parents ever have to go on missions? Missions to where? For who?” Aubrey continued with the questions, more coming into her head as she spoke.
Tom sighed and stepped forward. “Aubrey, there will be a time when all of that is explained to you, I promise. Let’s just say that your parents weren’t exactly who you thought they were. Now, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually pretty cool. They were incredible, brave people and I’m proud to have stood by them for so long and to even stand by them after they’ve left this earth to care for their child.”
“That’s deep, man.” Steve muttered.
Aubrey glared at Steve. She couldn’t tell whether he was making fun of Tom or if he was agreeing with him, but just wouldn’t admit it.
“I want to know everything, though. What did you mean when you said my world and your world?” Aubrey continued. She wasn’t going to let them go so easily.
Tom looked at his wrist watch. “You know, it’s getting late and it’s a school night…”
“Well, I’m not staying at this school anyway, so what does it matter?” Aubrey snapped.
Tom turned to Steve for backup, but Steve only shrugged. “She’s got a point.”
Tom sighed and turned his attention back to Aubrey. “I have a feeling we’re going to be up late tonight talking about this, so I might as well start now and get the ball rolling… Aubrey, I’m a mage and Steve is a knight. Your father was a ranger and your mother a thief.”