Hayle had stubbornly limped her way home long enough for her father Gabriel Koopmann. He scooped her up and she protested “I’m going to walk myself”
“You’re going to hurt yourself worse. I’m carrying you, end of discussion”
“Enough Hayle, I won’t have you hurt yourself worse” Her angry face was changing in a way that told her father she was definitely on the verge of tears. “Hayle honey” He said in softer tone and sat down, still holding his daughter. She clung to him and sobbed, now even more embarrassed than she was before. He soothed and held her until she stopped and said in a heart wrenching voice “I just…I hate messing up all the time dad. I just want to be a good assassin and make you and mom proud of me. It seems no matter how much I practice or how hard I try when we’re out I just make things harder on you. I’m an embarrassment to this whole family”
“Hayle, your mother and I are proud of you. You do try hard, I see it when I’m teaching you. You really pay attention and when you try you give it your all sweetheart. You aren’t embarrassing anybody. I don’t give a damn if you’re ever good at being an assassin honey but as long as you want to try I won’t give up on you and neither will your mother. We love you so much. We waited so many years to have you Hayle and something as insignificant as you not being a natural assassin doesn’t make you any less than a gift to us. All your mom and I care about is your well being and you being happy. Maybe it’s just how I’m teaching you, maybe we could see if your grandfather wants to try.”
“Dad, it’s not even about me being natural at it. You’ve been trying to teach me for over twenty years now and I’m just as bad as when I started”
“Thats not true”
“dad….our target didn’t even do this to my leg. I” She got close to sobbing again and he pulled her close “Lets not talk about what happened to your leg baby”
“why can’t I even do the simplest things dad”
“I can name countless things you’re good at”
“None of them have anything to do with being an assassin..I just don’t understand how I can be related to you, mom, Grandpa Zane, Lakshmi and Seth and be so useless at this job”
“It’s not for everyone sweetheart. You have lots of cousins and not many of them are assassins.” he stood with her, wanting her leg tended to. “Let me take you home and I’ll go out and finish the job. I love you so much Hayle. Your whole family does. Nobody gives a damn if you ever make it as an assassin, I promise you. You have so many other amazing skills” Gabriel took his daughter the rest of the way home, staying until she was being seen by a doctor. He kissed his wife bye and quickly left.
“Don’t be so down baby.” Tawny said as she sat next to her and rubbed her back.
“It’s just not fair, I’m like a newborn horse when I’m working.”
“Maybe you should talk to Zane.”
“That’s what dad said, but what if he thinks I suck or something. I’m supposed to be a natural, but I have no grace.”
Tawny stroked her hair. “You might just be a late starter. Besides, you don’t have to be an assassin.”
“Dad said that too.”
“Well he’s right, don’t push your self sweetie and if you really want to keep learning then talk to your grandpa, he’s the one who taught Gabriel. You could even take Shepherd, I bet you’d have fun.”
Hayle blushed. “No way, he’d laugh if I fell on my face and I wouldn’t be able to kill him because I suck at it.”
Tawny lovingly rubbed her daughters head “Sheperd wouldn’t laugh, he knows how much this all upsets you. He’s your best friend and he might have some tips for you.”
“I’ll think about it. I’m useless until my leg is mended”
“Let me get Laura” Tawny kissed her daughters head “I love you so much Hayle and so does your entire family. You don’t have to be an assassin like your father and I. Just remember that please, you are an amazing person with a lot of amazing skills and maybe with the right teacher you’ll get better at being an assassin and if not there’s so many jobs you could have and perform well at.”
“I love you too mom”
“want me to let Sheperd know you’re back?”
“Nah, one thing he does always laugh at is my clumsiness and if he hears this story that cackle will make me punch his lights out.” Tawny brought her daughter a drink and a sandwich then left to see if Laura was home.
Hayle sighed and got up, doing her best to stay off her bad leg as she took her plate and glass to the kitchen. She went over what she had done wrong again and again and tried to think of how her father moved compared to herself. She felt a knot forming in her throat again when someone knocked on the front door. She knew she should probably just let them leave and get back to resting, but she didn’t want to be rude and wound up limping over to the door and pulling it open. She almost slammed the door when she found herself staring up into Shepherd’s surprised face.
“You’re back.” He finally said.
“Why are you here?” She asked, feeling embarrassment creeping back in.
“Jeez, did I do something wrong?” He rubbed the back of his neck, finally noticing her leg. “Holy shit, what happened?”
“Hayle, that looks painful.”
“Shepherd, can’t you just…”
He scooped her up and carried her back inside, kicking the door shut as he went. Her cheeks reddened and she was so shocked she didn’t know what to do. He sat her on the couch, grabbed the throw pillows and propped her leg up. “What happened?”
“Go away.” She managed to say.
“Hayle, what happened? Did you fall again?”
She crossed her arms and looked away. “Maybe.”
He let out a sigh of relief and patted her head. “I thought something serious had happened. Don’t worry me like that.” He chuckled.
“Oh shut up, I already feel stupid enough and now you’re here.” She swatted his hand away.
“Don’t be mad, I bet you looked adorable all flustered. I bet you made the same face you’re making now.” He laughed as he sat down and lifted her feet into his lap, making sure to keep the pillow under her injured leg. “So what happened this time?”
She still wouldn’t look at him. “Dad and I were creeping along this ledge and I stepped on some loose stone, I fell, caught myself then fell some more.”
“I’m glad your dad was there. Did you break anything?”
“No, I managed to land semi alright.”
“Well at least you made progress landing”
“Jerk” He chuckled “I’m sorry Hayle” He hated seeing her embarrassed and sad again. “come on now, it’s okay Hayle. You’re adorable”
“You don’t understand Sheperd. I..I just want my parents to have a real reason to be proud of me. I know they’ll always love me but..they are such good parents, I have such a wonderful family. I want to make them proud for a real reason and I’m such a” she couldn’t finish what she was trying to say. She refused to embarrass herself further by crying in front of Sheperd. It was one thing she had refused to do from the time they met. He was about to speak again when Tawny returned with Laura “Oh, hey Sheperd” Tawny said, happy to see him here. If anybody could change Hayle’s mood he could.
“Hey Mrs. K, good to see you. I’d get up and hug you, but I’ve made myself the official footstool.” He said with a big smile.
“Oh hush, I don’t need your lap.” Hayle said and tried lifting her feet off, but he gently kept them there.
“You’re comfortable, I can tell, so just keep them there.”
Tawny laughed as she bent down and hugged him. “There, you didn’t even have to stand. So, how have things been?”
“Good, I was just coming over to ask you when Hayle was coming home and here she is. It made my day.”
“Sure.” Hayle replied.
“I mean it, I miss you when you leave and it’s so boring without you around, I mean I have friends, but you’re the one I look forward to seeing the most.”
Laura cleared her throat to keep from laughing at how embarrassed Hayle was. “Let me have a look at your leg.”
Laura, being the amazingly gifted woman she was mended Hayle’s leg. Leaving it looking like she had never hurt it at all “Thank you Laura” Tawny said and Laura answered “it’s no problem”
“stay for coffee?”
“You know I was over at Zane’s house earlier and Belle was on one of her baking sprees.”
“ohhhh lets go over there for coffee then” Tawny said, already tasting the delicious treats her mother in law could bake up. Hayle got up, filling with relief. It had been so intensely painful walking on it before. “good?” Sheperd asked and Hayle said “Yeah, thank you so much Aunt Laura” They walked over to Zane and Belle’s home and were welcomed in. “so Laura told you I was baking huh?” Belle said cheerfully. Hayle couldn’t help but feel happier. Belle was such a warm, sweet person. Just her presence made it hard for anybody to feel upset. Hayle often thought that had to be one of the bigger reasons Zane loved her so much. He needed a light like her in his long, dark life of being an assassin. Especially since she knew how hard of a childhood he had had. Her father had told her about it when she was sixteen. The next time she saw her grandfather she gave him a long hug, having even more respect for him.
Weaker men might have turned into bastards but he was an amazing grandfather who only let the darkness in him out on jobs. Belle wouldn’t sit until everyone had coffee and a big plate of sweets. Hayle noticed Belle had given her considerably more than anybody else. “Grandma”
“I can tell your trip with Gabriel didn’t go well. Enjoy, I can’t have my grandbaby sad”
“At this rate I’ll get fat.” She said even as she picked up one of the many cookies and took a bite.
“I can just imagine you with pudgy cheeks, I bet you were a cute baby.” Shepherd teased and she grabbed his ear, making him laugh.
“You better help me eat these.”
“Alright, alright, but if you don’t let go I’ll have to ask your mom to break out the baby pictures next time I’m over.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“I’d double dare.”
She released his ear and Belle sat there grinning while everyone laughed at their antics. Shepherd made good on his word and helped her eat everything on her plate. She felt a lot better once she was done and talked happily with everyone. “So have you thought of asking grandpa for help.” Belle said and Hayle sighed.
“Everyone keeps saying that.”
“It couldn’t hurt, he’s an extremely good teacher.”
“I know, it’s just…I feel like I’m letting him down.”
“Sweetie, he won’t be upset, he’s not like that. Besides you’re good at archery and horseback riding as well, you could start competing or give lessons. Even if you don’t have the grace to be an assassin, I’ve seen some of the tricks you do with the horses. I’d be terrified to stand on a saddle, not that your grandfather would let me.”
Hayle smiled, knowing with certainty Grandpa Zane would have a heart attack. She hoped someday somebody would love her like he did Belle or like her father loved her mother Tawny. She couldn’t stop her mind from going to Sheperd. Her annoying yet amazing best friend whom she had spent the last five years joking and playing around with. He was a good guy and as they got older she was seeing him as more of a love interest than buddy but there wasn’t time for that yet. She needed to get better, she needed to become a great assassin and make her family proud. She didn’t even know if Sheperd could see her that way. Alice was always flirting with him and somtimes her insecurity made her feel like maybe he liked her, maybe Alice with her beauty, grace and over all perfectness was a better match for Sheperd than her and she could only ever be friends with a guy like him.
“Feel better?” Shepherd asked when they left Belle and Zane’s.
“Yeah, for the most part.”
“I’m glad you promised to talk to Zane, I really don’t like seeing that frown.”
“We’ll get used to it, I still feel sort of down.”
Shepherd grinned and picked her up, spinning her around and making her cling to him. “Smile or I’ll spin until you puke.” She started laughing at his serious tone and he stopped and continued walking, but didn’t put her down. “That’s more like it.”
“where are we going?”
“You’ll see” He carried her to the area the knights practiced their archery and took a bow then carried her out to a fiel. He set her down and handed her the bow and arrows. “What’re we doing Sheperd?”
“Just wait” It took awhile for what he was waiting for to come so they talked until finally he saw a small bird flying over “shoot it down Hayle. I want it for my breakfast” He said as he pointed to the small, blue creature “Um…okay” she said, got up and shot it with seemingly no trouble atall regardless of the fact it had been such a small bird and so high up “and you don’t see that as amazing Hayle? Not many people can just do that like you can” Hayle now realized what he had been doing and her heart trembled. “Thank you Sheperd” He smiled “You’re talented Hayle, you really are”
He picked up the bird and they returned the bow and arrow before he walked her home. “So are you going to come and hang out tomorrow?”
“After breakfast, unless you want to come over and eat with me. It’s up to you.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“Well yeah, unless you want to miss out on my amazing cooking skills. See I’m not just the good looking annoying neighbor boy, I’m also a killer cook.”
She rolled her eyes, but smiled anyway. “We’ll see.”
He chuckled, hugging her and she actually found herself leaning into him. “Remember what I said, what we’ve all said, you’re more than your heritage. You have a lot going for you so play to your strengths.” He let her go and turned, waving as he left her on her front porch.
Hayle smiled, watching him until she couldn’t see Sheperd any longer. She went in and Tawny could tell Sheperd had Hayle feeling better “Have fun sweetie?”
“Yeah, when do you think I can see grandpa Zane?”
“If he isn’t home now he should be home in the morning”
“Thats probably why grandma was baking”
“Yeah, she’s a sweetie like that. There’s some in our cookie jar if you want more. She sent way too much home with me”
“Do you want to play a game of cards before I shower?”
“sure honey” Tawny said as she got up to get them. Hayle spoke again as her mother walked away “I’ll pour us drinks, what do you want?”
“sweet tea” Hayle poured them both a glass of sweet tea then waited for her mother. They played a few rounds, Tawny just happy her daughter wanted to spend time with her. When they were done they cleaned up together then Hayle took her shower and got ready for bed.
The next morning, she was woken to someone gently shaking her and she nearly jumped out of bed when she saw it was Shepherd. He reflexively grabbed her shoulders thinking she was going to roll off the bed and his laughter had her blushing. “What are you doing in here?” She asked, half asleep and embarrassed. She knew she must look horrible.
“Your mom told me to come and get you. I brought you breakfast, I didn’t want to eat alone.”
“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to see a woman until she’s cleaned up?”
His smile widened and he gently stroked her cheek then tucked some hair behind her ear. “But you look adorable when you’re this messy.”
“Shush, stop messing with me.”
“I mean it.”
She lightly slapped his cheek and he gently tussled her hair, his smile never fading. “Oh stop, I’m up.” She pushed the covers back and quickly grabbed her brush. At least she could fix her hair.
He chuckled again “I’ll see you in the kitchen Hayle” She brushed out her hair then came right into the kitchen, she could get changed after breakfast. “I was going to walk over to your house you know” Sheperd shrugged “I got up really early and I was impatient” She took a bite of her food “well, I guess this was worth getting up for.” She said it nonchalantly to tease him. He took her plate, feigning irritation “don’t force yourself” she laughed and took it back from him. His smile returned and they enjoyed breakfast together. When they were done Hayle took the dishes into the kichen while Sheperd grabbed a rag to clean off the table.
Hayle respected her parents too much to leave mess she or her friends caused for her mother to clean. Sheperd took over the dishes before Hayle could finish so she could go ahead and get dressed. “we’re going to see Zane?”
“Yep” she answered then left the kitchen. Before they left Hayle told her mother bye and they set of for Zane and Belle’s. To Hayle’s delight her grandfather was home and already knew she wanted to learn from him.
“So I was told you were having a problem with your footing.” Zane said and she looked at the ground.
“Well, that’s one thing. I mean, I’m not as quiet as you and dad.”
“Hayle, will you look at me please?” She raised her head and he gave her a warm smile. “I’m not disappointed. My father made me into an assassin, I have lived and breathed that life for as long as I can remember, I was just a child when I made my first kill as was Gabriel, but I started his training later.” He rested his hands on her shoulders. “It’s not a decision made lightly and you don’t have to be good at it to be part of this family.”
“I know, everyone managed to cheer me up, Shepherd as well.”
Zane turned to Shepherd. “Thank you for that and I hope you’ll never let her be hard on herself.”
“I’d stay attached at the hip if it was the only way to make sure she smiled.”
Zane chuckled. “Good.” He then turned back to Hayle. “Let’s run a little exercise.”
He went into his and Belle’s room and came back with two wooden daggers. “You are going to track and kill me.” He handed her one of the play daggers.
“But you’re so much better than me, it’d be impossible.”
“Hayle,” Shepherd said and she looked into his eyes, “if you want to get better you have to go after the best. The best is your grandfather so trust him.”
“He’s right, I can better observe you by being your target.”
“Confidence is important as an assassin. Trust yourself. I’m going to run, give me about thirty seconds” She nodded and Zane took off. “You have this Hayle” Sheperd assured her before she ran off. He sat down to wait on her and laughed when Belle came out with a lemonade for him “Thank you Mrs Koopmann”
“are you hungry?”
“so why haven’t you told Hayle you love her yet?” Sheperd blushed, in shock and embarrassed she knew. Belle giggled “Everything about you when you’re around her says you love her Sheperd. It’s easy to pick up on”
“I was planning to soon. I want to do some sort of grand gesture before I ask her out. To show her how I feel you know? When it comes to mushy emotions I’m not very good at expressing myself with words and I want her to understand that I’m madly in love with her. What do you think I should do? I’m sure as her grandmother you have some pretty good ideas.”
“She loves baked goods, archery, and horses. She also loves things like flowers and butterflies, though she wouldn’t tell anyone, it’d be too embarrassing.”
“A new horse and bow would be perfect for her. I know a breeder, he only raises the best and I could have a custom bow made for her, something that says Hayle. Do you think she’d like that?”
Belle laughed. “My goodness sweetie, I think she’d like anything you got for her.”
“Then it’s settled, I’ll go and get things all set up once she’s back home tonight.”
Hayle was on her back staring up at the sky again, covered in grass and dirt. She had thought she was being quiet enough, she had sworn she had picked her steps carefully, but he had still heard her and had even let her get close enough to disarm her. “Grandpa, this is useless.”
“Don’t say that.” Zane helped her up and handed the wood dagger back. “Don’t think about stepping, let your body think about it. I don’t ever choose my steps, it’s just instinct.”
“But you’d still hear me.”
“I’ve been at this for a long time honey and nothing gets past me, not even your father could sneak up on me.”
“And what about my clumsiness?”
“Again, you’re thinking too hard. Don’t tell your body to move, just let it move.” He patted her head. “Now, again.”
Sheperd and Belle were still talking when Zane and Hayle returned. She didn’t look proud of herself but she didn’t seem depressed so Sheperd counted his blessings. “How’d it go honey?” Belle asked her granddaughter. She looked at Zane “we’ll need to do a lot of work but I can make her into an assassin. I have no doubts about that.” He hugged Hayle “You’re an amazing woman Hayle. You can be anything you want”
“Thank you so much grandpa”
“Thank me by being happy and by sending your father over when he gets home. I can never seem to catch him any more”
“I will” When Belle and Zane were inside Hayle said “I’m sorry Sheperd, I feel so bad you waited on me but I’m worn out. I kind of just want to go home, soak and lay down with a good book until I pass out”
“It’s no issue” he picked her up “I’ll carry you home if you’re that tired”
Hayle blushed, but didn’t argue like she usually would. She honestly wanted to be close to him and she wound up snuggling into him. She closed her eyes as he walked, listening to his heart beat. It was so steady and calming that it wound up making her fall asleep.
Shepherd chuckled and pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head. “My sweet beautiful Hayle, I really love you.” He sighed. “I wish it was this easy to say it to you when you’re awake.”
Sheperd took her home and laid Hayle in her bed. He went home aswell, he wanted to hurry up and decide what he wanted her bow to look like. He was up drawing all through what was left of the evening and straight through the night. It took him about two weeks to get everything together but she had been taking lessons from Zane anyway so she had been fairly busy. He waited until she was going to have a couple day break from lessons then he invited her over to his home to surprise her.
“This whole blindfold thing is creepy Sheperd” She said as he carried her to his house. He laughed “It’s need, don’t worry” He set her down then guided the horse from his stable. He had already tied the bow on, simultaneously tieing the bow and arrows to her horse”
He removed her blindfold, loving how surprised and slightly confused she looked “Sheperd?”
“I bought her for you and I had this bow custom made just for you. I drew it up myself, wanting it to be something that suited you” He took the bow and arrows off the horse and handed the bow to her. “It’s beautiful Sheperd…so is the horse…but why? It’s not my birthday” He kissed her and gathered the courage to say :because I love you and I wanted to do something to show it to you. Will you be my mate Hayle? Please”
She pulled him into another kiss, making this one passionate. The two felt insanely happy in this moment, especially Hayle. She might not have her working future ironed out quite yet but she was sure she had just somehow managed to get the most amazing guy in the world to fall in love with her.
~ The End