"Sin-eaters: Persons hired at funerals in ancient times,
to take upon themselves the sins of the deceased,
that the soul might be delivered from purgatory."
Mikhael sat by one window in the apartment, gazing out at the growing gray winter sky. At the other window sat Max staring at the same thing in his own slightly wicked way. As Freddy watched them both from her perch across the room she could only marvel at how different the two boys were, how differently they watched the same sky. Freddy noticed such things and she catalogued for future use, if any there could be of these peculiarities.
To her, it seemed, Mikhael was actually studying the sky, absorbing every aspect of its color and the speed of clouds and the refraction of light through the thickening wind. If she concentrated hard she could practically enter his mind and hear his inner monologue which, she was sure, went something like:
"Less blue now, more gray, more gray even, and grayer still. The wind at twenty knots bends branches which reach furtively for a passing cloud. The sun breaks into three colors at this juncture, including a persimmon color foreign to any sky." That was how she heard him in her mind. There was a stilted, foreign romanticism to his thoughts about the weather.
Max, on the other hand, was handling it all with a more practical attitude. Freddy, again, to read that mind and hear those words:
"Wow, the way the gray eats up the blue. And that breeze that works its charms on the sticks and leaves of the ash tree, so powerful it hugs you. I like the way the sun keeps trying to change it all into colors, like reddish-orange-clay or mustard-yellow-blue." Max was the more practical mind, Freddy thought. She could understand his reactions to things much more easily than she could Mikhael, but she still felt closer to the foreign boy than to the native. She wasnít sure just why.
"Can we do something, please," she almost whined at the two of them. "Iím bored."
"Fredericka, how is it you can be bored when nature is putting on this show for us, for only us three, I think."
"Yeah, Freddy, come on. Come watch with us. Itís great stuff."
"I donít want to watch the sky turn gray. Thatís not fun."
"Youíve been cooped up here too long," Max said. "You need a break from all this getting well."
"We must take you out then, to some place extraordinary and unusual, I think."
"And just what would that be, Mikhael?"
"I shall think on it and tell you when weíre almost there, Fredericka."
"Hey, no fair. Just because you have money for surprises doesnít mean you get Freddy all to yourself."
"Maximiliano, whatever I decide, you shall be a partner with us, a full and complete partner, naturally."
"Isnít he swell, Max?"
"Swell." And Max thought about their last afternoon alone together when the word swell was immediately appropriate. His face changed and Freddy noticed it right away.
"What are you thinking?" she asked Max.
"Oh! Nothing. Nothing, really." Mikhael broke into a smile and Freddy was aware of it. She gave him an odd look.
"And what are you suddenly thinking about?" she demanded of him.
"I cannot be addressed in this tone of voice, Fredericka."
"You can and you will. What was that grin on your face about?"
"I was...shall I really say it, Max?" Max waves his open palm at Mikhael who either misunderstood the gesture or chose to ignore it. Freddy wasnít sure which it was.
"Somethingís going on between you two. What is it?" She saw Max blush and Mikhael smile again at Maxís embarrassment. "Are you two planning some sort of surprise for me?"
"Yes, of course we are," Mikhael said quickly. "You cannot ask us what it is, because then the surprise would be diminished."
"Whatís the surprise, Max?"
"Well, you heard Mikhael. My lips are sealed."
Mikhael laughed out loud, a bursting of sound and air, nothing subtle. Freddy and Max both turned to look at him. His hands were clasped across his mouth and nose but his eyes, very visible in his otherwise concealed face, were still dancing with merriment and mirth.
"Come on, guys, this isnít fair."
"Youíll have to wait, Freddy"
"But I donít want to. Iíve been cooped up here for weeks. Iím bored. I want my surprise now."
Mikhael let go of his face and held out both hands to Freddy.
"Come to the window, Fredericka. See the show that nature puts on just for us."
With pain in her eyes and her shoulders she pulled herself up from the easy chair and made her way over to the window seat where Mikhael was perched. The closer she came to the window the easier it was for her see the vast expanse of weather-related show the boys had been watching so closely. The sky was only showing distant, tiny patches of blue. All the rest was a multitude of gray shades, an almost infinite number of them from near jet black to distinctly pure white. The rising and falling of the wind moved the clouds through this half-tone world at variable speeds and with varying positions in the sky, sometimes rising upward, sometimes sinking close to the ground or at least to the trees and the building roofs.
"It is sort of pretty, isnít it?" she said reluctantly.
"Yeah," Max replied from his own seat.
"Come over here, Max," Freddy said to him. "Thereís plenty of room for three on this seat."
They repeated this exchange a few more times and finally Max pulled himself up onto his knees and edged his way backward until his feet hit the floor. He walked a bit stiff-legged over to the other window where Freddy had joined Mikhael. Slowly he sat down on the far edge.
"Youíre too far away, Max," Freddy said to him. "Move over here, closer."
"Why? Iím okay here."
"We should all see the same thing, the exact same thing," Freddy continued. "Come and sit really close. Weíll put our heads together and see exactly the same things."
"Iím really just fine."
"Max! Iím the invalid and this is what I want from you. Now, please."
He thought for a moment, then spoke again. "Wonít I be too heavy for you? Freddy, youíll be pressed between Mikhael and me and that will put a lot of weight on your body."
"I wonít mind. If it hurts Iíll tell you. Okay?"
"I guess." He moved over and slowly leaned in against Freddy who was already being supported by Mikhaelís body, his outstretched left arm cradling her shoulders. "Is this all right? Iím not too heavy, right?"
"No. Youíre fine." The three of them pressed their heads together and, as close as their six eyes could possibly be, they stared out at the impending storm. Freddy noticed that Mikhaelís hand was no longer holding firmly the muscles in her shoulder. She could still feel the weight of his arm across her shoulder blades, but his hand had moved elsewhere. She tried to stare out of the side of her eyes, to see if she could find his hand, but the Olympian task of moving her eyes that far to the left was painful and she let it go. Instead she closed her eyes and tried to imagine his hand and where it could be.
What she saw, or at any rate imagined she could see, was Mikhaelís hand on the back of Maxís neck. It was obvious, she felt, when she thought about it. It was about as far as any arm could reach and it made Max more a part of their triad. Held close in this way, Freddy could imagine their relationship to the property itself, how their bodies related to the building and its own position on the street. Her mind went directly to these things and not to anything more personal.
"Are you okay, Max?" she asked.
"This is good with me."
"Okay then." She was aware of Mikhaelís hand moving against Maxís neck now. The tendons and the muscles in his arm moved rhythmically against her upper back and she knew without knowing how she knew it, that the end result of all that rhythmic pulsation meant his fingers were moving into a clench and relax, clench and relax, massaging of Maxís body. She felt a rush of jealousy which she submerged with a gulping of air.
"I know the surprise," she thought to herself. "I know the surprise."
As the sky filled in its blue bits with gray, as the wind tossed the clouds about with its merciless gusts, Freddy choked back a sob and a sigh. She lay there, sandwiched in by her two best friends who, she now knew, had something between them that didnít involve her. She had no idea what took place between the boys that she couldnít share, she only knew it was there and it was true.
"Do you see the way the clouds move against one another, Fredericka? Max?"
They both nodded and the gesture nodded Mikhaelís head as well.
"That is us, my friends," he continued. "That is us."
"I sure hope so," Max said earnestly.
"Now and always," Freddy added, and the three heads continued to bob in accord. "And Iíll always be here, in the middle, taking both of your sins onto myself. Thatís what a best friend does," she added.
The grey sky nodded with them. Nature agreeing with natures, secrets held tight in the grip of trade-winds, was all there was now and it was everything.