“Daddy wants to speak to you,” Harlowe said quietly, and Hana looked up in shock. Her father hadn’t wanted to see her in days—not since he seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. He didn’t want his baby, his youngest daughter, to see him in his weakened and ill state. So—if he wanted to see her now, if he was asking to talk to Hana, then he wasn’t getting better. He wanted the chance to say goodbye to his daughter. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go in and see him. Maybe if she didn’t say goodbye, then her daddy couldn’t die.
Harlowe seemed to read that thought on Hana’s face as soon as she thought it. “Hana, don’t. He’s going either way, and you don’t want to regret not going to him when he asked for you.”
‘Okay.” Hana agreed softly, “Okay. Let’s go see Daddy.”
Hana held her sister’s hand tighter than was strictly necessary. Harlowe gave a small smile and nod to the nurses and people helping take care of her father as they passed, but Hana kept her face turned towards the ground, trying to keep her eyes dry, and saving her smiling for her father. The little room they were keeping him in was dark, and very cold, to make things as comfortable for her father as they could manage it. Even still, he looked flushed and sweating in the little room, and squinted up at Hana like the world was still too bright.
But he smiled at her, and she found that in spite of the knot of wanting to cry that had lodged itself into her throat, it was easy to smile back at him. Her father had always meant so much to her, he’d always been there for an easy smile, and even when he was dying, he found a way to give her an easy smile. “Hey there, Haners. How’s it going? What have you been up to this week?”
“Not much. Momma said I didn’t have to go to school because people just kept looking at me with sad eyes and I wasn’t learning anything anyways. So, I’ve just been sitting at home with Whir most of the time. He’s getting better at walking on his hind legs now.” Hana went to take another step towards him, to reach out and take his hand, but Harlowe gave her hand a tight squeeze. Daddy was still sick. Daddy was dying. The girls weren’t supposed to touch him.
“Oh, well, that is something then, Han. Whir walking on his back legs is handy talent and you never know when that will be a useful trick for you.”
Hana waited for her father to get over a small coughing fit before she smiled, “If you say so, Daddy.”
“I do say so. I’ve also got a few things I need you to remember, okay?” He tapped his temple, as if it was a normal school night, and he was just here to help her study. “Are you ready to remember?”
“I’m ready to remember.” Hana agreed.
“You remember all those books and numbers that I taught you to use. All the stuff about the money for the house and the lands?”
“You’re in charge of those now. Don’t let your mother touch them. She’s going to want to try to help you with them, but don’t let her. Send her away. If you let her do any work on it, you’ll just have to redo everything she did and make more work for yourself. So—don’t let her okay? Harlowe might be able to help you out in pinch, but I wouldn’t even trust her with the book over any extended time.”
“I’m right here,” Harlowe complained weakly.
“Oh look at that, so you are.” He winked at Hana, and she giggled. Perhaps it was bad form to giggle at the side of a death bed, but it was Hana’s last moments with her father and he wanted her to laugh. It almost seemed more cruel to stay stoic. “My girls. You’ll take care of each other, right? You won’t fight over the land or our home. You’ll be good to each other.”
“Oh, Hana can have the land,” Harlowe scoffed, “I want to see the world.”
“I never want to leave the Sisterlands,” Hana nodded, “I’ll take good care of our home.”
“My girls.” He sighed again, settling back on his pillows. “Good girls. You probably have better things to do, so go get to it. Send your mother in.”
Hana let Harlowe pull her out by the wrist. Hana let herself be pulled through the sick house and down the street. Half way between the sick house and their home, in an alley between the tavern and the tailor’s shop, Harlowe froze. She turned and stared at her sister. Hana held out her arms, and her older sister collapsed into her embrace. In the moment that her father died, in the moment she legally became the head of her ancestor’s farmland, Hana held her big sister as she wept in her arms, rubbing her big sister’s back and assuring her it was all going to be okay. Two weeks before Hana turned eight years old, she became the senior most responsible member of her family, she became the adult that she’d never really hoped to be.