Freya stuck out her tongue as she reached as far as she could, standing on her tiptoes to reach the sweets on the top shelf.
“Ya-ya! Whatcha doing?” The voice of her younger brother sounded behind her.
Startled by his sudden presence, Freya whirled around with an innocent look on her face. Seeing it was just Miko, her shoulders relaxed slightly.
“Ya-ya! Spin!” The four-year-old exclaimed louder this time as he rushed his older sister, trusting she would catch him and twirl him around as he desired.
Freya rolled her eyes and caught the busybody that was her brother, twirling him twice before setting him down again. She shot a glance at the kitchen door, ensuring her mom was still preoccupied. Satisfied, the seven-year-old went back to reaching for the sweets.
“Ya-ya! Spin me again!” Her brother insisted, pulling on her homemade sweater.
“Shh!” Freya hissed, turning to look her brother in the face. His eyes welled with tears at the reprimand, so she added, “come help me. But you need to be quiet. If Mom catches us, we’re dead. Got it?”
Miko nodded furiously before scrunching his eyebrows together. “Whatcha doing?” he repeated.
Glancing at the door again, Freya whispered conspiratorially, “sneaking cookies. You want one?”
The little boy’s eyes lit up at the promise of sweets that only came once a year. “Yes, yes, yes!” He shrieked.
“Shh!” Freya put a finger to her lips and widened her eyes. Miko winced as his face turned sheepish, an apology in his eyes.
Sparing a look at their mom, he wrapped his arms around his older sister. “Sorry, Ya-ya. What do I do?” His whisper was only slightly quieter than his previous squealing.
“Stand lookout and make sure Mom doesn’t come this way.” Freya said, exasperation coloring her tone as she peeled the little boy off of her. “If she comes this way, give me a heads up.”
“What’s a heads up?” Miko cocked his head, trying to understand what his sister wanted of him.
Freya sighed. “If Mom comes this way, tell me. But stay quiet.”
Miko gave her a one-handed salute and took position by the door. Freya shook her head before reaching once more for the sweets bin.
Extending herself as far as her legs and arms could go, the little girl realized she wouldn’t be tall enough by herself. Freya relaxed her muscles and turned to search the kitchen for something she could stand on. Her eyes caught on the wooden stool she used when helping her mom cook.
She went to grab the stool, moving as silently as she could. Lifting the stool and setting it back down without sound would be difficult, especially since she couldn’t let her mom hear anything suspicious.
Hopefully, Miko warns me like he’s supposed to. Freya sucked in some air and puffed up her chest before lifting the stool with precision. With wide steps, the little girl heaved the stool to right below where the sweets bin sat on the shelf. She shot a glance at her brother, making sure he still kept watch by the door.
Her blue eyes shot him a look that had him scrambling back to his post. Freya rolled her eyes when she heard his silent giggles, doing his best to keep his promise to be quiet.
What would he do without me? She stuck her tongue out once more and set the stool down, ensuring it made as little noise as possible.
With one last glance at her brother, she scrambled onto the stool and extended once more. Her hand barely touched the prized bin, but she used the pads of her fingertips to inch it towards her.
Almost just a little more. Her inner dialogue urged her on as a sudden noise caused her heart rate to skyrocket. Dread coated her insides as she whipped her head around to look at her brother.
“Tina! No! You can’t come in here!” Miko was pushing their two-year-old sister Valentina out the door of the kitchen.
Seeing Valentina’s face turning red, Freya thought quickly. “Tina, come look at the flower!” She grabbed the small pot from the counter and held it towards her little sister. Meanwhile, she glared at Miko for almost causing a disaster. He shrugged his shoulders and let the two-year-old pass.
Freya stepped off the stool, taking care not to drop the plant she held in her hand or make too much noise. Valentina took halting steps towards her sister, a smile plastered on her face.
As Valentina made her way over, Freya met Miko’s stare and gestured towards the door, silently communicating he should go back to keeping watch. She only refocused on her sister when Miko took up his position once more.
Freya set the plant on the ground as her sister approached, willing the little girl to stay quiet as she made her way over. She plopped down next to the delicate peace lily and giggled.
“Pretty!” Valentina exclaimed as she stroked the petals of the plant’s flower.
Satisfied her sister was occupied, Freya climbed back on top of the stool. In her haste, Freya didn’t check the door again. Using her fingertips, she pulled the ceramic dish to the edge of the shelf. She readjusted her grip and eased it onto the countertop.
Her mouth watered as she imagined the sugary goodness that would be hers. Freya reached into the jar, her fingers grazing the cookies her Mom and Aunties made for Yulemas.
“If you wanted a cookie, you could’ve just asked Squash Blossom.”
Freya’s eyes went to the kitchen door where her mom was standing, balancing her baby brother on her hip with a soft smile. She looked for her supposed lookout and found Miko on the floor with Valentina, looking at the peace lily and stroking its petals.
Some lookout. She thought to herself before meeting her mom’s blue eyes. They danced with amusement as hers filled with guilt. Brushing her fingers on her breeches, Freya hung her head and stepped off her stool.
Her mom stepped into the kitchen and held her free arm out to her eldest child. Freya felt relief coat her insides as she hugged her mom’s side. She had been caught in the act, but it didn’t seem that she’d be punished for her transgressions.
Freya could feel her mom chuckling as she brought them closer to the counter. Her mom released her to reach inside the dish and pulled out three cookies.
Freya smiled when she handed her one of the rosemary ones. Mom always remembers which ones are my favorite. She munched happily as her mom offered the other two confections to Freya’s younger siblings.
Miko and Valentina giggled as they scarfed down their sweets and licked their lips, leaving the peace lily forgotten on the floor.
Her mom frowned and pointed to the flower. Freya, wanting to stay in her mom’s good graces, knelt down and moved the plant back to its space on the counter.
Her mom gave her a small smile before shifting the baby onto her other hip. “Freya, love, why didn’t you come to ask me for one if you wanted a cookie?”
Freya dropped her eyes. “I thought you’d say no.” She felt a hand under her chin gently lift until she met her mom’s blue eyes.
“You should never take what is not freely given. If someone tells you no, it’s up to you to convince them to change their mind or go without.” There was affection in her mom’s eyes, but her tone was stern. “Remember that the next time you want something, love.”
Freya nodded, recognizing she wasn’t in trouble but would be if it happened again. “If I want another, I have to ask and then I’ll get one?”
Freya’s mom laughed and chucked her chin. “Nice try, Squash Blossom. You can have another one after dinner.”
Freya’s mind raced, trying to put her mom’s words into practice. “But I’m going to need more energy to create the next batch of tonics.”
Her mom’s shocked expression made Freya hesitate. Did I say something wrong?
The older woman recovered with a snort. “Have a piece of dried meat or an apple, smartypants. Too much sugar is bad for you, and besides, we want those cookies to last until Yulemas.”
“Aye, Mom. What tonics should I prepare next?” Disappointment colored Freya’s tone as she moved to the large cabinet containing their newly preserved slices of meat and fish.
“Start on the willow bark tinctures. I’ll put your brother down for a nap and then come show you how to make one to make a wound clot easier.”
Freya nodded and grabbed three pieces of food from the cabinet. She offered her brother a piece of fish and her sister a piece of chicken before running to the workshop off the back of their house.
Her mom would put her baby brother to bed and find something for Miko and Valentina to do before joining her. She was determined to finish as many as possible before her mom made an appearance. Freya was a Healer just like her mom and loved their sessions in the workshop.
It was one of the few times she got her mom all to herself. The sooner she finished the willow bark tonics, the sooner she could learn something new from the woman who had taught her everything.