the pearl


This far up north, the sunrise came early during the summer. And Aisha, who had always risen with the sunrise, found herself wide awake at 5am, lying on her back in the small sofa bed she was sharing with Clay, arms above her head as she stared up at the ceiling.

The ceiling was dusty and covered in some sort of faded off-white textured stucco that had once had silver glitter sprayed onto it to make it look more appealing.

It hadn't worked.

She heard someone walking along the hallway, quietly padding along on bare feet. There was a faint squeak from the back door, then a quiet click as the screen door closed.

Aisha counted ten minutes, still staring up at the ceiling then climbed out of bed and grabbed some clothes.


Julia Jensen's house was an old sprawling farmhouse, far too big for one woman and her daughter, but perfect for a woman, her daughter, and the ex-Special Forces team that she seemed to automatically accept as 'family'.

The wood floors were cool under Aisha's feet, and the back door repeated the faint squeak when she opened the door. She stood on the back porch, quickly surveying the area, checking the treeline, the low-slung bushes, the fences.

Julia knelt on the ground near one of fences, weeding.

Aisha frowned and moved closer, making certain that her footsteps were heard on the steps down. Julia looked up and smiled at Aisha before returning to the plants. "Good morning," Julia said, her voice quiet, peaceful, appropriate for the hour.

Aisha nodded. "You're awake early," she said.

Julia shrugged her shoulders. "Always wake up early in the summer — sunrise comes directly through my window."

"And the gardening?"

Julia chuckled at that. "It's not too hot, it's quiet, and usually it's just me, the squirrels and the neighbor's cat." She reached for her shears. "Helps me think." She carefully snipped a few dead flowers off of a plant.

"Does it?"

"Mm-hmm..." Julia put down her shears and looked up at Aisha. "And I've been doing a lot of thinking recently."

Aisha raised her eyebrows. "Oh?"

Julia turned back to the plants. "Yep." She tugged at a weed. "It's the kind of thing you do when you spend a few months believing your baby brother's dead, only to find out he's not." The weed finally gave way and she looked at it critically. "And then you do a lot more thinking when he tells you everything that happened."


Julia looked up at Aisha. "Everything." She threw the weed on the pile, then wiped her hands on the grass. "Are you really going to kill Clay?"

Aisha blinked at the blunt question. "He killed my father."

Julia nodded, and reached for her spade. "He's killed a lot of fathers over the years, you know."

Aisha tensed, her hand automatically sliding for the knife tucked into her jeans. "And that makes it okay?" she asked sharply.

Julia looked down at her spade, then up at Aisha. "No, of course it doesn't." She raised an eyebrow at Aisha's stance. "Don't worry," she said, smiling calmly. "I'm not my brother — no one's trained me to be a deadly assassin with common gardening tools."

Aisha's hand fell back down against her thigh.

Julia turned back to the plant bed and delicately dug around a plant. "Did Jake ever talk about his family with you?"

Aisha frowned. "Why would he?"

"Just wondering." Julia pulled the plant out and slipped it into a planter. "Our father was killed nine years ago."

Aisha said nothing, and Julia looked back up at her. "Thank you," Julia said.

Aisha's frown grows deeper. "For what?"

"Not saying 'I'm sorry'. It always seems so artificial. Especially when people who never met him say it." She leaned further onto the plant bed, plucking out grass stems from around the fence. "He drank a bottle of scotch at his favorite bar, then plowed head-on into a tree on his way back here." She rested back on the heels of her feet. "Killed instantly."

Aisha looked up at the sky and didn't say anything.

"Now, it'd be ridiculous of me to blame the bar, or the bartender, or the distillery, or the neighbor down the street who first planted that tree, wouldn't it?"

Aisha blinked and looked at Julia with her eyes wide.

Julia was watching her, evaluating her reaction. She nodded.

Aisha looked away from her critical gaze. "You can't compare the two," she said, her voice flat.

Julia shrugged. "Maybe not." She turned back to her gardening. "But that doesn't stop me from wanting to burn that goddamn bar down every time I drive past it." She pulled out another weed. "Probably will, one day." She looked over the flower bed, dusting off her hands. "What do you think?"

Aisha looked at the flowers. "Nice," she said, distractedly.

Julia chuckled. "It's okay," she said. "You don't have to pretend you care about flowers." She took off her gloves, setting them down on the grass, then slowly got to her feet. "Better get breakfast started before Jake decides to cook... Too many pancakes on a game day could be disastrous." She started walking towards the house, then stopped for a second. "Oh, and Aisha?"

Aisha looked at her. "Yeah?"

Julia looked at her, her expression even. "If you kill any of the others because of this thing with Clay? I will hunt you down and bury you in my garden." She crossed her arms against her chest. "Do you understand me?"

Aisha straightened and nodded. "Completely."

Julia nodded. "Good." She smiled. "Come on in when you're ready — I'll put the coffee on and make us all some scrambled eggs." She walked back into the house, closing the screen door but leaving the back door open.

Aisha looked back at the small patch of flowers along the fence, then, carefully, got down to her knees, reaching for the gloves.

This The Losers story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at