“Are you a girl?”
Finn turns towards the voice, scowl evident on his face. He pushes his hat out of his eyes – it’s just large enough on him to keep falling down – because he doesn’t want to appear even remotely childish. “Can you stop following me?”
“Oh, you’re not, right? You’re a boy?”
“Aren’t you a little young to be using that sort of language?” The girl watches him closely, her long blonde hair blowing wildly in the cold autumn breeze. She tilts her head to the side, regarding him with curiosity, not judgement. She can’t be much younger than he is. “You should be scolded for those manners. Especially if you are a girl, because that’s not very ladylike.”
“Followin’ strangers around for weeks ain’t very ladylike either,” he frowns, crossing his arms in an attempt to look tough.
“Come oonnn, it’s hardly been that long.”
“I don’t know where you be from, miss, but ‘round here, we don’t take to kindly to bein’ followed.”
She giggles, twisting her puffy skirts out as she stands defiantly in front of him. “You have such a funny sounding accent.”
“What of it?”
Her voice sings as she talks. “Oh, nothing. I was just lonely, is all. My folks and I just moved here, you understand, and I thought you looked interesting enough to be my friend.”
“Your folks let you wander through these here streets alone? What kind of people are they then?”
“I’ve never seen you with a mother or father before either.”
“I ain’t got no folks. I look after meself.” There was a certain amount of pride in his voice at the declaration.
She takes a seat on a nearby box, leaning against the brick wall it rests in front of. “Don’t go sticking up your chin as if you’re something special. Everyone has parents.”
Finn glances down at the cobblestone streets beneath him, shoving his hands into his pockets. Defiantly, he glares off into the alleyway, refusing to meet her gaze. Stubborn pouting seems like his best option at the moment, and maybe if he’s quiet enough she’ll just end up leaving him alone. It’s hard to do business when there’s a stupid little girl following him around everywhere, especially one who’s so posh.
“Only a boy would pout that much,” she continues, swinging her legs up in the air.
“I ain’t no damn girl!” Getting mad now, he kicks a rock down the road, hoping it’ll help his case somehow. It doesn’t, of course.
“You are quite the rude one, aren’t you?”
Before he can come up with another retort, Finn feels a hand on his shoulder. The presence is strong behind him, and without the need to look, he knows exactly who it is. Then again, the scent of ale and smoke may do something to contribute to that understanding.
“Now, now, Finny my boy, what do I always be sayin’ to you, huh? Always be on your best behaviour with the ladies.”
“But Christopher, she was—“
“Ah, no buts.” The man holds up a finger in front of his face as if to silence the young boy and his complaints. One look at his expression tells Finn all he needs to know about how much he’s been drinking. “And who might you be, miss?”
If the girl felt any discomfort about talking to strange men in alleyways, she certainly didn’t show it. “Madeline. But most people just call me Maddie.”
“And whereabouts are you from, Miss Maddie?”
“My folks and I just moved here from a small town far, far away. I doubt you’ve ever heard of it, it’s so tiny. They own the new shop just down the way.”
“Ah yes, I know the one.” Christopher scratches his chin as if in thought. It’s clearly been more than a few days since he’s lasted shaved, and his blonde hair is tussled under the hat he wears. It matches Finn’s.
He roughly pushes the boy forward, who almost trips on the stone walkway as he feels himself being shoved.
“There’ll be none of that attitude with me, Finny. Now are you gunna be sayin’ your apologies to the young miss here, or am I gunna have to give your ass a whipping?”
“Fine! I’m sorry, alright? I ain’t mean to be bad to you.”
“Are you his father?” Hopping off the box, Maddy steps towards them. She holds her hands behind her back, and there’s a spring in the way she walks, as if this whole encounter’s nothing but a game to her. “He said he didn’t have any parents, but I don’t think that can happen.”
Christopher laughs, grabbing Finn’s arm and pulling him in close. “I’m somethin’ of the sort, yes.”
“It ain’t like that.” With another scowl, the boy rips himself away from the man’s grasp while Maddie just stares on with a grin, indifferent to the exchange.
“If you be comin’ around here now, think you can do somethin’ for me?” If Christopher’s offended by Finn’s actions in any way, he’s certainly making no indication of it, and he turns his attention to the strange girl in front of him.
“I suppose that depends on what it is.”
“Right right, I suppose it does. If you’re able, would you keep an eye on my boy Finny here? He has a talent for getting himself into trouble, he does, and when I ain’t around, I’d like to know he’s in good hands, as it were. And if you don’t mind me sayin’ so, you seem to be quite capable of handlin’ yourself, Miss Maddie.”
“I see no reason why I couldn’t do that.” She smiles sweetly, and it gives Finn the urge to punch the dumb expression off her gross little face. “I’m fairly certain I can handle it.”
“Well then, I suppose I should be thankin’ you!” Christopher’s mouth forms into a lopsided grin, the left side of his lips coming up just a little higher than the right. “You seem like quite the decent girl, and I’m sure my Finny will be safe with you.”
“However,” he continues, almost as if it were an afterthought, “me and him ‘ave got some business to do in town today, so I’m afraid I’ve got to be stealin’ him for now. I’m sure we’ll both be seein’ you soon?”
The man tips his hat politely in Maddy’s direction, hitting Finn roughly on the back of the head to force him to do the same. Without another word, he turns with a polite smile, heading back on through the alley in the same way he had come before.
“Goodbye, Finny!” She waves.
Wanting to both get the last word in and make it known that he’s still very much displeased with this whole arrangement, Finn stops before following Christopher, making a show of sticking out his tongue in the girl’s direction. Regardless, her smile never falters, and completely thrown off by the entire exchange, he trudges grumpily after his guardian.