(author’s note: this one’s for Shimi and Miriam. Well, not really *for* them. It’s for me. But I want them to read it is what I’m trying to get at.)
With a triumphant smirk, Katara spun around and raced in the direction of Wheeler Lane, calling “We need to get some pen and paper to do this properly!”
Zuko just shook his head and followed her.
Zuko had expected the girl to go straight to his house, but she didn’t. She stopped one house earlier and knocked on the white door.
“Hey, that’s not my house,” the boy said.
“I know, this is the Colonel’s house. He can be, well, a little hard to be around lately, but he’s a good guy and I want you to get to know him.”
“He can help us figure out what an Appa is,” she said reassuringly.
The two waited for several minutes, but the door didn’t open.
“You know,” said the girl, suddenly somber, “this isn’t a very lucky street.”
“Yeah, I mean when Mr. Wheeler passed away his wife got them to change the name of the street in his honor, and then the accident with Mr. Storm’s brother-in-law,” the girl pointed lethargically at the building on the other side of Zuko’s house, “and the Colonel recently lost a close friend of his, too. They’ve been holing themselves into their houses, but I thought…”
Katara let the both the sentence and her head hang. The door still didn’t open, so she lifted her head again, rang the bell, and drifted away into thought.
“What did you think, Katara?”
The girl’s bubble was popped, and she turned quickly, shaking her head. “Think about what?”
“You said ‘they’ve been holing themselves into their houses, but I thought.’ What did you think?”
Katara opened her mouth to answer, but the door creaked open instead and an imposing figure showed himself. It wasn’t the actual body that was imposing. In fact, the man had a smaller-than-average frame. But the frame that he did have, he held with military authority. Zuko shouldn’t really have expected less of someone whose name was “the Colonel.” Was he really a colonel, or just someone who liked to call himself that?
“Katara,” the looming figure said, deadpan.
The girl straightened up and held herself in a perfect salute. “Good evening, Colonel!”
He sighed, breaking his composure slightly. “I told you, you don’t have to be so formal around me. You’re a civilian.” Katara slouched and the Colonel took notice of the other person on his front porch. “Who’s this?”
“Zuko. He’s your new neighbor.”
The Colonel sighed again, falling completely into a casual posture. “Alright, then. Come in.” He disappeared into his doorway, and the teenagers followed. Zuko passed through the doorway and forgot about what an Appa may or may not be.
The house was filled with military paraphernalia from every age the boy was aware of, but leaned heavily towards Victorian. Swords and muskets were on display, hand-drawn maps that were yellowed and crinkling, ammunition both detonated and not, and next to the staircase there was even a large suit of armor. Either this man really was a colonel, or he was totally delusional.
He sat down in the living room sofa, and the two guests did the same.
“So, Zuko,” he said, flexing his fingers, “tell me a little bit about you.”
“No, no,” Katara spat out, then realized how rude she was being and demurred. “I mean, I want you to tell him about Lieutenant Colonel Hughes.”
The Colonel looked away, out the window to his back garden. “You mean Brigadier General Hughes,” he corrected her.