Chapter 89

There was no snow in southern California on Christmas day; in fact, Charles Adair found himself fiddling with the air conditioning as he settled down to work in his study. It was a rare holiday indeed that allowed Charles to be at home; however, on this occasion his meetings had lined up in a way that it made the most sense to work from his mansion for a few days. There was a Christmas tree in the foyer and some lights along the railing, but that had all been put up by a service Charles paid for maintenance and decoration. Charles had no concern for Christmas beyond the fact that it meant his American business contacts were out of commission for a few days. He was not a festive man. Not since a great many years ago.

Charles worked through the morning without pause, taking care of documents that had accumulated over the past few weeks. Some needed review, others authorization, but all were of exceptional importance. If they weren’t then they never would have made it all the way to his large, expensive desk. His pen scratched across the papers as the clock ticked away. Charles paid it no concern; he threw himself into his work as he always had. He was so engrossed that it would have been impossible for him to say how long he been at it before he was interrupted by a sound at his door. Charles paused his writing and glanced up to deal with the disturbance.

As soon as his eyes fell upon the door, Charles let out a choked, strangled sound from deep in his throat. A ghost stared back at him, her dazzling green eyes accentuated by pink glitter liberally swiped across her eyelids. He felt his mouth open and close repeatedly. Dimly he was aware of a wet sensation in his hand.

“Daddy, did you hear me? They’re going to have lunch ready soon. You should come eat.” Alice gazed at him with concern. She wore a sundress that was wrong for the season and right for the weather. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, drawing all the more attention to the sparkling around her eyes.

“I...yes, of course.” Charles blinked several times and reasserted his grip on reality. On the subject of grips, he realized he’d crushed his pen, the spilling ink accounting for the dampness he’d felt on his hand.

“Are you okay? You look flustered.”

“I’m fine, it’s just the glitter...” Charles shook his head once for good measure and looked about for a towel to wipe his now-stained hand on. “Sorry, Alice, sometimes I forget how much you look like your mother.”

“Did Mom wear glitter?”

Charles laughed, but not with his business appropriate laugh or his boys’ club laugh or even his polite disapproval laugh. Charles Adair let out a genuine expelling of mirth. Alice couldn’t remember ever hearing anything quite like it before.

“She wore glitter all the damned time. I can scarcely remember a day when she didn’t have some on. I tried to get her to ease up a little; it got on everything and was impossible to scrub away. She refused, of course. She used to tell me, ‘Glitter is a form of anti-depressant, because it is impossible to be sad when you twinkle.’”

“That sounds... cheerful.” Alice wasn’t sure what tone her voice had right now. Charles never talked about his deceased wife, and Alice didn’t want him to stop now that he’d let a bit of her memory slip free.

“I suppose it does. To her credit, she might have been right about the glitter. I’ve never known a consistently happier person than your mother.” Charles gave up the search for a towel; he was the only one allowed in this room and he knew he didn’t keep one here. With a minor exertion of will, he changed the ink into water and wiped the moisture off onto his slacks. “I think I will join you for lunch. I’m a bit peckish today.”

“I’ll tell the chefs,” Alice volunteered.

“No, I’ll go with you. I need to get a towel to clean the remaining ink off my desk anyway.” Charles stood from the table and looked at his daughter once more. “It really is shocking how similar you two are. What motivated the eye glitter today, anyway?”

“I got some as a Christmas present from... a friend,” Alice lied. “Since today is a holiday I thought I’d make myself a little extra festive.”

“Well, it looks good on you,” Charles said. The two left the room and began traversing the mansion’s vast halls as the West Coast sun continued to beat down on the world outside.

*    *    *

Chicago had plenty of snow and cold for the season, so much so that it easily could have shared with other cities. A fresh inch cascaded down in fierce flurries as two figures trudged their way down the street. One was shorter and husky, the other seemed to have accrued so much snow that it had turned his hair silver. They plodded on methodically, checking street signs at each intersection to make certain they hadn’t lost their way.

“I still can’t believe my cousins knocked all the gravy on the floor,” Hershel mumbled, just barely audible over the persistent wind smacking them in the face.

“They didn’t mean to. They were just playing,” Vince defended.

“Playing in the kitchen near all the bowls where they aren’t allowed.”

“Your mom said all she needed was a base and she could make more in half an hour.”

“I’m not doubting my mother’s culinary abilities nor the willingness of my family to wait. I’m just annoyed because I have to freeze my butt off out here.”

“A quick drink could have let Roy out,” Vince suggested.

Hershel shook his head. “My mom’s side of the family is all normal. They know about Roy, but they’re a little put off by him. Roy tends to act out in situations where he feels like he’s being judged.”

“I take it they don’t get along.”

“There have been some strained holidays.” Hershel said something else, but Vince missed it thanks to a particularly fierce burst of wind. On instinct he turned to look back from where they’d come; Vince’s years wandering had made the ability to retrace steps a survival instinct. What he saw was rows upon rows of distinct houses being drowned out by an ever-thickening shower of white.

Vince squinted his eyes a bit. There was something else there, too, a human figure a block or two back. He couldn’t make out any details, not even a sex, but there was something about the figure that tickled the base of Vince’s brain. He stopped his forward movement and could have sworn the figure stopped walking as well.

“Vince! For the third time, are you okay?”

“Huh?” Vince whipped back around to Hershel, who was looking both concerned and frosty.

“You spaced out on me and kept staring behind us. I thought maybe the cold was getting to you.”

“I thought I saw something.” Vince turned back around, only to find the snow-saturated street was empty save for himself and Hershel. “I guess I was wrong.”

“The light can play some crazy tricks when it bounces off the snow. Let’s hurry and get Mom the flour for the gravy before we really do get lost in this storm,” Hershel said.

“Right.” The two quickened their pace, hurrying toward the store. Several blocks away, two other figures stepped out from the alley beside a house and watched them go. Some moments later there was a bright light that danced across the falling flakes, and then the sidewalk was unoccupied once more.