Connor walked out of the bathroom, wiping some leftover toothpaste he missed from the corner of his mouth. Wiping his hand on his boxers, he began to make his way to his room. Just before he reached his room, the walls shook with a resounding thud. Another thud emanated from his father’s office, or whatever it was. Connor slowly crept forward, stepping lightly and silently.
He heard another thud and pressed his ear against the door.
“Bloody arsehole! Of course he would ask about my bleeding side!” he heard his father snarl as another ‘thud’ sounded.
“Shit!” his father suddenly cursed, voice filled with pain. Connor steeled a breath and gingerly knocked on the door.
“What?” Haytham snapped. His voice was strained.
“Are you all right?” Connor asked tentatively, already questioning his decision to interfere.
“Come in,” Haytham ordered.
Connor frowned. His father was definitely in pain; the order was forced and heavily strained. He slowly opened the door and observed his father’s office for the first time, if he could call it an office. The room seemed to be split down the middle- half was spattered with equipment that belonged in a gym, and the other half almost resembled an office. It was easily the largest room in the house.
Haytham was leaning heavily on a dummy planted in the middle of the room. “Help me to the chair,” he said, wincing and grabbing his side.
Connor let Haytham lean on him, carefully guiding him to the chair. Haytham collapsed into the chair and let the fencing sword he held slip from his hand. Connor stepped back, helpless. His father was in obvious pain, and Connor didn’t know how to help.
Haytham blew some wayward strands of hair from his face, gesturing to another chair. “It’s about time I told you some things. Sit.”
Connor sat and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He looked at Haytham and waited for him to speak.
Haytham cleared his throat, pushing the wayward strands of hair back into his original style. “As you might have noticed, I used to fence. I was only a little older than you when I won an international tournament. That wasn’t the last one either. I was going to compete in the Olympics representing Britain when I was 23.”
He paused, gritting his teeth as he grunted in pain again. Connor considered doing something.
Haytham sat up straight, looking weary. “That time was short lived, though. I was injured during a match. I was facing an Italian when his blade broke. The match was paused because a piece of his blade somehow cut my forehead,” Haytham said, tapping the scar on his forehead.
“As I was walking away, he attacked me from behind. I was lucky to have survived. If he went any farther to the left, he would have punctured my kidney and God knows what else. He was diagnosed with a mental disorder later that year.”
Haytham paused again, shifting in his chair. Connor felt the bowling ball come back as he watched his father flinch in pain.
“I, however, could not fence again. My nerves in that area never truly recovered. Sometimes it spasms and I can barley move. So I went to school. I somehow got into Harvard and got my degree. The rest is history.”
Connor nodded, not knowing what to say. He wondered what he would do if he couldn’t do the things he enjoyed anymore because of an injury.
No wonder his father barely smiled.
“What does that man have to do with it?” he asked. The incident with Edward Braddock refused to leave his mind.
Haytham winced in pain again. “There is a bottle of pills in the drawer on the right,” he said, gesturing to the desk, “Bring it here.”
Connor got up, walking over to the desk. Searching the drawer, he plucked out the bottle and held it out for Haytham. Haytham snatched it out of his hands, quickly opening it.
Connor sat down as Haytham popped two into his mouth, swallowing them dry.
He wondered how his father could do that. He could take hardly any medicine without water.
“Edward Braddock and I were members of the same fencing team. We didn’t get along. My injury was his opening – he went to the Olympics in my place. The last I heard of him, he was back in Britain. I was surprised to see him there today,” Haytham explained, leaning back in his chair.
Connor rubbed his hands together and nodded. They sat in silence for a while. Connor mulled over this new information. However, the question he had asked his entire life bit at him.
“How did…you and Mom…not happen?” he asked hesitantly, looking at his hands.
He peeked up at Haytham.
Haytham looked stunned. “She never told you?” he asked. Connor could have sworn pain flashed in his eyes, but it disappeared as soon as it came.
Haytham cleared his throat. “Of course she wouldn’t. We didn’t exactly end on good terms.”
Connor gave him an expectant look.
Haytham pinched the bridge of his nose. “I met your mother a few years after I got out of law school. My career had just moved me here. She left her wallet at a coffee shop. I ran three blocks to find her during one of the worst snowstorms Saratoga’s ever seen. The roads were so shoddy we ended up hiding out in a bookstore for three hours.”
Haytham looked out the window wistfully. A small smile reached his lips. “She wouldn’t talk to me at first. She thought I was some dodgy fellow. I finally convinced her to give me her number after we started talking.”
In all honesty, Connor wasn’t entirely interested in how they met. He was interested in why every request to see his father had been refused.
“We were together for a few years, but I cocked things up and she left. A year later, I found out about you,” Haytham continued, resting his elbow on the armrest.
Connor furrowed his brow. “What did you do?”
Haytham sighed. “I failed to keep my priorities straight. It was more important for me to be successful than a decent partner. It seems that I can’t be successful at more than one thing at a time.”
Connor nodded. His grandmother told him as much. “I still don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to see you,” he said, crossing his arms. He was sick of not knowing, honestly.
Haytham sat up straight. A small frown was on his lips. “That is something neither of us will ever know for sure. I requested to meet you many times. However, your mother had full custody and I had no claims. We had decided it was best that way.”
Connor couldn’t possibly start to list off all the times he wished he had a father there for him. Connor tried to suppress the lump of anger forming in his throat. What was done was done. His mother often had told him not to linger on things he couldn’t control. If anything, he was determined to follow his mother’s teachings.
Haytham exhaled deeply, rubbing at his temple. “Connor, I’ve regretted that decision many times. And I’m sure your mother did too.”
Connor nodded, deciding to be quiet. He was irritated, honestly. Why couldn’t they do what any normal, split up family did? Why did he have to be without one parent most of his life? He got up, deciding that it was best if he was alone now.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked when he saw his father twitch.
Haytham waved him off. “I’ll be fine, this isn’t the first time.”
He twitched again, wincing in pain.
Connor hesitated, still looking uncertain.
“Go to bed, I’ll be fine,” Haytham ordered, looking stern.
Connor almost rolled his eyes. He wasn’t a child. For crying out loud, he was eighteen years old. He bit his cheek, keeping a smart remark from coming out of his mouth. The last thing he wanted was for them to argue.
He gently closed the door and padded down the hallway.
Ellie sighed and rolled over on the lounge chair in her yard, letting the sun warm her back. She didn’t sunbathe often, due to her skin’s tendency to burn easily. However, that didn’t stop her from enjoying it every once and a while.
Ellie turned her head at the sound of a door opening, grinning as Connor exited the house and made his way to the corner of the yard, where the tiny shed stood.
Ellie rolled onto her back and sat up, cocking her head in curiosity as Connor pulled a push mower from the shed. He started it up loudly and got to work. Ellie flopped back down and continued to sunbathe, putting her headphones into her ears.
Every other song, she peeked out of the corner of her eye to see if he was done. When the hum of the lawnmower finally disappeared, she sat up and pulled her headphones out.
Ellie got up and put on her flip-flops, making her way to the fence as Connor put the mower away. “Whatcha doing?” she called out.
Connor started and turned towards her. Ellie cheekily waggled her fingers at him.
“The grass needed mowing, so I decided to do that today,” he replied, gesturing to the lawn before stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Ellie nodded and fixed the strap of her bikini top. They always found some way to get twisted for some reason.
“So…what are you up to?” Connor asked, looking uncomfortable.
“I was just getting some sun.”
Connor nodded and stared at his shoes, now looking a little pink. Ellie wondered why. Was he getting sunburned? She checked her bikini top briefly, for decency purposes, and found that nothing was wrong.
And then it hit- it was because she was wearing a bikini. Her bikini wasn’t anything outrageously revealing, paired with her favorite shorts. She thought his shy look was adorable though.
“Do you want to hang out? We can swim if you want,” she suggested, suppressing a teasing grin.
He shrugged, still refusing to look at her. “Okay.”
Ellie sat at the edge of the pool and dipped her feet in the water as Connor jumped the fences, kicking off his shoes. She glanced at him once he made it over, turning away quickly when he began to pull off his shirt, feeling her cheeks tingle with a heat that wasn’t from the sun.
She felt silly. Connor was a friend. They weren’t like that. Not to mention, they had only been friends for a few days. Ellie peeked again.
She wondered how fast the girls at school would swamp him. A lot of girls she knew liked guys with ponytails these days. He was also the perfect definition of a gentle giant. Ellie could already picture a few of her friends going after him when school starts.
He sat down next to her, keeping a respectful distance between them. They sat in a comfortable silence, just letting their feet sit in the cool water. Ellie peeked at him out of the corner of her eye. He looked deep in thought.
“I’m going to get something to drink,” she said, getting up.
He nodded, not looking away from the pool.
Ellie took that moment to shove him in.
He fell in with a surprised yelp, quickly popping back up out of the water. Ellie cried out loudly as Connor’s hand grabbed her ankle and pulled her into the pool.
She pushed her hair out of her face when she resurfaced, laughing. She splashed him, holding onto the edge. “Rude!”
“Says the person who pushed me in,” he said with a smirk.
Ellie laughed again, resting her arms on the warm concrete. He followed suit.
“Do they have pools at the reservation?” she asked, kicking her legs a little.
Connor shrugged. “We swam in the ponds. They’re more fun than a pool.”
Ellie scrunched her nose a little. “Aren’t ponds gross though? I would be freaked out about something slimy touching my leg.”
Connor shook his head. “I think they’re interesting. There are lots of things to do.”
Connor looked up in thought. “We went fishing using methods our people used in the past. My mother taught a lot of us how to catch a fish with a sharp stick once.”
Ellie grinned, resting her cheek on her arms and facing Connor. “She sounds like a cool person. I wish I could have met her.”
Connor nodded, grinning sadly. “I think she would have liked you.”
Ellie sighed, pushing her damp hair away from her face. “I think my parents would have liked you too. When I was younger, my mom always said to be friends with polite boys,” she said with a smile.
Connor looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Can I ask you something?” he asked.
“Are you an orphan?”
Ellie sighed, readjusting her arms a little. “My dad died when I was 7. It was a freak accident at his work. My mom died of lung cancer a little later. But I’m not an orphan exactly. The Johnston’s were friends of the family and agreed to taking on the role I’ve been here ever since.”
Connor nodded. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
Ellie nudged him with her shoulder. “It’s okay. It sucks sometimes but I’m happy. Peter and Eliza are awesome and I couldn’t think of greater people to be with,” she paused, looking toward Connor’s house. “Speaking of that stuff, how is your dad?”
Connor frowned, brow furrowing. “I don’t know.”
Ellie cocked her head. “What is it?”
Connor turned around, sitting on the pool ladder nearby. “He…I don’t know…I feel like I’m in his way sometimes. I don’t want to piss him off or something either. It’s frustrating.”
Ellie peeked over at the perfectly mowed yard. How could any parent think a kid like Connor could get in the way? Ellie couldn’t think of any other kids that did a yard chore on their own, including herself.
“I’m sure he doesn’t think that. It’s just a new adjustment for both of you. I remember feeling the same when I first moved here. Like I was in their way, all the time,” Ellie mused, thinking back to her first few months with the Johnstons.
“Yeah, but he’s intimidating sometimes. I never know what to do because I still don’t know him well.”
Ellie winced, remembering a time she saw the wrath of Haytham Kenway. “Yeah, he can be scary.”
“Did he say something to you?”
Ellie almost laughed at his worried look. She waved it off. “Some punks tried to come and egg his house once. They were the kids of a guy he was prosecuting or something. I’ve never seen someone kick some tail like he did.”
Connor looked at her in shock. “What happened exactly?”
Ellie shrugged. “Well, the sound of the d-bags woke me up so I looked out my window. I saw them standing in front of the house with an egg carton. Your dad probably heard too. He snuck up on the ringleader and they never knew what hit them.”
Ellie saw Connor hold back a smile. “I didn’t know he could actually fight. I thought he only fenced,” he said.
Ellie pulled herself out of the pool, plopping herself down on the edge. She wrung some water out of her hair. “Well, he can. I have seen him as a badass ever since.”
Connor laughed a little, pulling himself out of the pool too. “My dad is a badass huh?”
Ellie pointed a finger in his face. “You should be glad I’m only saying that. My friend, Claudia, has said other things that almost made me faint.”
Connor gave her a confused look. “What?”
“She’s told me about some fantasies she’s had about your dad. I think she only comes over so she can try to see him.”
Connor’s face turned red. “Oh.”
They sat quietly as Ellie wrung more water out of her hair. She wondered why she told him that. Probably so he will avoid Claudia. Knowing her, she’ll latch onto him to get to Mr. Kenway.
“Do you like my dad?” he asked, giving her a teasing look.
“I think you’re lying.”
“Why are you blushing then?”
“Because I was thinking about something she told me once,” Ellie grumbled, giving him a playful shove.
“What did she tell you?”
“I’ll let her tell you that when you meet her at school. She’s going to be your best friend when she finds out Mr. Kenway is your dad,” Ellie said with a teasing grin.
Connor rolled his eyes. “So that’s the only way I’m going to make friends?”
Ellie shrugged, giving him a fake compassionate look. “I’m afraid so. The only way to make friends is to have good looking parents and hot neighbors.”
She batted her eyelashes. He gently pushed her shoulder, grinning a little.
Ellie grinned, throwing her hair over her shoulder. “So, now what?” she asked, leaning back on her palms.
“I don’t care.”
“Movie?” she suggested.
When Connor walked into the house later, he felt as though he were on a friendship high from Ellie’s company. It made him overjoyed to have a close friend again. The sight of his father in the living room welcomed him, face obscured by the newspaper he was reading. He recalled what Ellie told him earlier. Did his dad really beat up a group of guys?
Haytham looked up from his paper. “I assume you were next door?”
Connor nodded, sitting down on the couch. “I was.”
Haytham nodded, looking down at his paper. “Miss Johnston is pretty in her own way, isn’t she?” he asked, almost nonchalantly.
Connor stiffened. “What? No, it’s not like that. We’re friends...” he said, holding up his hands. His mom always did this and he had hoped his father wouldn’t.
No such luck.
Haytham didn’t look convinced. “I was your age once too, you know,” he said, smirking.
“Don’t say that. It infuriates me when people say that to me,” Haytham said, giving him a stern look.
The bowling ball was spinning faster than ever at the look. “Sorry.”
“It’s all right. Just think of something else to say.”
Connor twiddled his thumbs, wondering how to bring up what Ellie told him. “Do you get any…trouble, from your job?”
Haytham furrowed his brow, looking up at him again. “What do you mean?”
Connor cleared his throat. “Like…people who don’t like who you’re defending or prosecuting? Do they cause trouble for you?”
Haytham took off his reading glasses, setting them on the end table. “Sometimes. There are lobcocks who have nothing better to do in their situation so they come and blame me. Why?”
“I was…told about a time that happened.”
“Miss Johnston,” Haytham stated, not looking surprised.
“Yes,” Connor said, looking down.
“Some buffoons that were a little older than you decided they wanted to throw eggs at my house one night. I did what any rational man would do.”
“Ellie said you beat them up.”
“Like I said, I did what any rational man would; I fed them their teeth.”
Haytham smirked, shaking his head. “I didn’t break anything but their pride, son.”
Connor frowned. “I thought you only knew how to fence though.”
Haytham rolled his eyes, waving the comment away. “Your grandfather is a weapons and military expert; did it never occur to you that he also studied how people used those weapons and military skills? We traveled all over the world together during the summer, while he worked. Learning hand and hand combat and things like that were part of the experience. I never would have got into fencing if we didn’t go to the Middle East.”
“What about the Middle East made you want to start fencing?”
“The Arabs know their swords. I saw a swordfight there and I fell in love instantly.”
Connor couldn’t believe how lucky his dad was. He could only imagine going on trips like that.
“Shut your mouth, it’s not polite to go slack jawed.”
Connor closed his mouth. “So, where did you learn to fight without weapons?”
Haytham looked up in thought. “Well…I remember meeting a Navy Seal here that showed me a few things. I met a man in Russia in a unit similar to the Seals there who did the same. I also became aquatinted with some Asian masters as well.”
Connor stopped his jaw from dropping again. He wondered what it would be like to know how to fight like that.
“Why do you want to know all this?” Haytham asked, cocking his head.
Connor shrugged. “I was wondering about what Ellie told me. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Haytham slowly got up, heading toward the stairs. “Follow me.”
Connor got up, giving Haytham a confused look. “Why?”
Haytham paused, glancing at Connor over his shoulder. “I can tell you want to learn. I’ll show you a few tricks.”
Connor was never more excited for anything.