by Tara LJC O'Shea
"A job," Ephram Frye repeated, still in shock.
His baby girl--youngest of their brood--had come home from the docks, running pell-mell through the house, her pigtails flying and her dress all askew and her hazel eyes were just shining with wonder. He'd been in his workshop, trying to get his brother Cal's mule up and running for the third time that summer. The old beast was on its last legs, and was held together pretty much with spit and bailing wire. But Cal was family, and you did for family.
"He just up and offered it to me--Oh, Daddy, she's a firefly! An aught-three, a real beauty! I got a look at her engine, and she could use a fair bit of work--"
"What kind of job?" he asked, wary.
"Man offers a girl a job out of the blue--might be expectin' somethin'."
"Daddy!" Kaylee blushed crimson--and his girl wasn't one to blush easy. "We ain't had work in weeks--and this would be real work. Steady work. I can send part of my cut home to you and Momma. Help out. She's such a pretty ship. If you'd just come out and saw her..."
He set his tools down on the bench, wiping his grimy hands on his coverall, and looked at her.
She was still a baby. Hell, didn't matter that she was close to the age Meg'd been when he'd married her. In his mind's eye, Kaywinnet Lee was still five years old, trailing after him and her brothers to the workshop while her mam worked up in the factory. She'd learned everything she knew at his knee, most of it before she was tall enough to unlatch the door of the shop without a boost from Sam or Kyle. Then she'd turned around and showed him a few things he'd never picked up in his fiftysome-odd years.
Girl had a gift for the workings of things. It was a rare gift, and he supposed he'd been selfish, keeping her to himself for so long when her talents could have gotten her off this rock years ago. Girl deserved the best life he could give her, and as her daddy, he knew what that meant.
But she was so very much his baby girl.
Tallie and Sasha, their eldest girls, they'd been Meg's. Showed not a lick of interest in machines. Didn't want to get their hands dirty. Tallie had married young to a man Ephram had liked but hadn't respect, and there weren't a thing to be done for it, 'cause the girl was in love--and you couldn't talk a lick of sense into a girl in love. Sasha had had enough brains to get herself a real education and was working on the other side of the world as a teacher at a fancy school. They got a card once a week, and she came home for New Year's because she'd always loved Riverside's dragon dances best.
The boys were quick studies, and had been more than helpful all the years they'd worked the docks, retro-fitting and doing spot maintenance for anyone could pay. Lot of times, even for those that couldn't, and them taking their cut in trade when they could. Sam had a wife now, and a wee baby to support--he'd inherit the business, what little there was of it, when Ephram finally retired. And Kyle never once looked at the stars with the kind of yearning he saw in his baby girl's eyes now.
She was just so young. So damned young. He wasn't sure he could let her go so soon. But the light in her eyes as she described the ship she wanted to sign on to--she hadn't had that light for years. Not since she'd re-wired her first grav boot without a lick of help from her brothers. Not since she'd gotten the parson's hovercar up and running again after every boy in the shop had bet her couldn't be done.
His girl liked challenges. His girl wasn't gonna find any, not in Riverside. Not like she would out there, in the Black.
Ephram knew from the sinking feeling in his gut that his girl weren't his baby anymore. She was growing up, and she was gonna leave him behind. Either with his blessing, him and her momma seeing her off--or some day soon, when she could sneak out with a bag and take off in one of the hundreds of ships that passed through the port every season.
She was in love with that ship already--he could tell. And you couldn't talk a lick of sense into a girl in love.
"Go get your mamma--she's down at her sister's with Mac and the babies."
"Daddy?" She seemed confused, and he didn't blame her. He supposed he was a mite confounding, turning on a dime and all.
"Well--if you're gonna go, best we tell her now so she's got enough time to get all weepy and woman-y about it, and not make you late for this captain of yours. She'll want a proper goodbye before you get outta the world."
"Thank you!" She threw her arms around him, and hugged him with all her might. Tears sprang to his eyes as he patted her shoulders awkwardly. "Oh, Daddy, thank you!"
"And you ain't going anywhere until I meet this Captain Reynolds! I ain't sending my baby girl off with no lecher, and I will be the judge of that my own self."
"Oh, he's so shiny, Pop! You'll love him--I just know you will!"
She pressed a kiss to his weathered cheek and then bounded off down the lane towards her aunt's house, short little sundress whipping against her long brown legs.
He watched her go, wiping away the tears that made streaks through the dirt and grime. And when he squinted, she was five years old again, pigtails and all.
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