A late autumn snowfall briefly dusted the eaves and sidewalks of Tortus Bay. It fell overnight, and melted away by morning, so few people knew it happened at all—but Henry was one of them. He sat awake by the window, chin in hand, watching the large flakes drift by the chilled pane. It snowed every year, back home. He’d come to hate winter, and all the unnecessary difficulties it imposed on daily life. Now as he watched he was filled with happy memories of days spent stomping through snow banks and nights sipping hot cocoa in an oversized sweater on the couch. None of that would happen in Tortus Bay. It would rain for the rest of the season, which would bring along with it a different set of difficulties. And perhaps, opportunities for new pleasant memories.
It rained on his first night in the village. A storm, as he remembered. He hadn’t touched his umbrella since then—it still sat where he last left it, in the cramped attic apartment which Kara had so kindly set up for him. Some of his less important possessions remained there, awaiting some point in the future wherein he would go cleaning. He loved staying at Niles’ place. There was the constant supply of good food, a dog always at hand to drool on his knee, and the privilege of spending uninterrupted time with the man who had become both his best friend and his lover. But at the same time, there was a sense of security in having the back up.
Bruce grumbled in his sleep, and his legs twitched. “Chasing a rabbit, buddy?” Henry asked, scratching him behind the ear. The dog licked his lips, repositioned himself, and drifted back into a peaceful slumber. Henry tore his eyes away from the window, returning to the newspaper spread on the table: an advance copy of the next Tortus Bay Examiner, due out later that day. He personally wrote, or read and approved, the entire thing, so he didn’t know why he felt the compulsion to pore over the final product. Yet there he sat, unable to stop himself.
Every detail of his encounter with the mayor was painstakingly detailed in black and white. Whatever anyone might say about his behavior, they at least would not be able to call him a liar, or accuse him of obfuscating the facts. Who knew if the people of the village were ready to believe what he discovered Noel to be. Even if they did, it seemed like there was little official to be done about it. There were no codified laws about magic in Tortus Bay. But what he’d done fulfilled the definition of assault and battery, no matter the justification.
Something told him that the mayor would not be around to meet the repercussions, whatever they might be. He stood, displacing Bruce, who registered his complaint with a deep-seated grumble. The matter of this political fallout was trifling. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that he was only fixating on the smaller issues to avoid engaging with the stormy cloud looming overhead. So he folded the paper, stuck it beneath his arm, and headed out into the lazily drifting sheets of snow in pursuit of a more productive place to think.
His feet brought him to the skeletal wooden framework of the new Tortoise Shell Inn. The walls were partially complete, and the floor entirely—placemarkers were already set out for the bar and the tables. Henry sat there, on a nonexistent stool, and let the falling snow melt into his hair. There wasn’t much of a chill in the air. If anything, he felt warm. Comfortable. He closed his eyes, and thought he could fall asleep.
Footsteps foiled this ambition. He looked up to see Clair stepping through the area where one day a door would be built. Her cheeks shone as red as her hair, and her breath fogged out of her mouth. “I need to stop hanging around here after midnight,” he said. “You run into the strangest people.”
“Oh? And who else have you met?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
She sat beside him, claiming her own invisible stool. “What are you doing out here?”
“Came to think. You?”
“Looking for you. I don’t know if you’re aware, but you have something of a habit.”
“Is that so?”
“On the night before a festival, you wander around the village like a zombie. Every damn time.” She snatched the paper out of his lap. “This the new issue?”
Her eyes tracked rapidly down the main story. “I see why you need to think. You could pass this thing off for a fantasy magazine.”
“I’m sure that’s how some people will take it.”
She tossed the paper into the snow. “You know, this is where we met. I remember the seating being more comfortable, though, now that I think about it.”
“That’s funny. I remember there being a drunk at the end of the bar.”
Clair laughed. “Clint’s been doing really well.”
“He seems upset with me.”
“Oh, he hates you. And he’s not shy about telling it, either. That’s what you get for saving a man’s life, eh?”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“I think he made peace with what the rest of his life was going to look like. Namely, drinking himself into the grave. Then you came along and hurt yourself to give him a new lease.” She shrugged. “Now he feels like he’s got to do something with it.”
“Maybe he’ll wind up feeling real foolish in a few hours.”
“Maybe.” She glanced over to the corner. “We met here, but then we moved to a table.”
“By all means, let’s scoot.”
They swept clean a section of floor against the wall and, following custom, sat facing each other across an imaginary table. Henry considered her. “You’re not going to ask me about my decision, are you?”
“I already told you how I feel. You’re smart, you don’t need to hear it again. Besides, I’m fine either way. I have two plans all worked out.”
“Let’s hear them.”
“Plan number one: let’s call that the contingency. If you make the stupid decision—sorry, sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’ll get a job here. Already talked to Jamal about it. He needs a numbers person, and someone to help out with the orders. He’s getting older. It won’t be glamorous, but it might just be the best job I’ve ever had.”
“What’s plan number two?”
“I’ve been talking to Sofia. You turned her on to me, didn’t you? We have an outing planned. See the world, find a therapist. Maybe reconnect with a long-lost friend. You know, girl stuff.”
He nodded. “You’re covered either way.”
“Have to be prepared to weave, when the bull in front can’t decide where he’s going.”
“I’ve felt like I’m living on undeserved time.”
“Sorry we’re all making it so difficult for you.”
“No, this helped. I think I know what to do.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
Henry led the way out of the bar, and as he walked the snow stopped. It melted into the earth under the cold light of the moon, leaving in its wake deep emerald grass and slick, clean streets. This time he did not mindlessly follow the whims of his feet. He knew where he was going, and as he approached he was pleased to find light streaming through the windows.
Teresa opened her door on the first knock. A smile spread on her face. “You came.”
“I want to be healed.”