A Very Sheridan Christmas


bella_icon.gif deckard_icon.gif

Also starring Isaac and Georgia Sheridan

Scene Title A Very Sheridan Christmas
Synopsis Who ever said you could never go home?
Date December 23, 2010

Bedford, Westchester County, NY

The journey into the wilds of Bedford took well over two hours, thanks to the snow that frosts the highways, falling in pale sheets and promising a white Christmas for the suburbanites. Not so much for the city-dwellers. With two days until the big day itself, there's more than enough time for much of that white to go grey. A retreat into idyll, then, is part of the promise of this trip. A going home. For some, at least.

A silver Prius rolls up into the driveway of 14 Cantitoe Rd., within a dutiful daughter and her companion. The car was rented for the trip, though unless it comes up, Bella isn't going to mention that fact. She's not going to mention much of anything unless it comes up. She can and will lie to her parents, many, many times in these coming days - at least, she will if all goes to plan. But she can try and limit her dishonesty to absolute and maybe justifiable necessity.

The picture windows of the big red brick house glow with warm light, a glow that will only seem to grow in strength as the sun continues its rapid descent towards the line of the horizon. The actual solstice has passed some two days previous, but the days are still about as short as they come, but it's not night yet. Just catching up to suppertime. Bella could definitely eat - the stockpile of donut holes she grabbed from the Tim Horton's before their departure turned out to be less appetizing than she had hoped. She sets a hand to the car's inner handle, before casting a quick look back across at Flint.

"Refresher on our story? Just so I don't fuck up if I get nervous," Bella offers, with a smile that might be considered endearing on most other faces saying most other words.

Freshly shorn and clean-shaven in the passenger's seat, the long slope of his jaw slacked open and clear-cut eyes polished a few apertures too wide when he rips his osprey focus off the red-bricked, warm-windowed visage of a "home" splayed out before him. His holiday sweater is vibrant, unholy red and host to a pair of dueling llamas (or alpacas) cast in blocky white and brown hand stitching. There are snow flakes and the llamas are wearing hats. Christmas hats. For Christmas llamas.

His close cropped bristle of wiry hair is dusted with grey and resiliently scruffed into characteristically coarse disorder, but he isn't rail thin enough to look ill and his boots are polished under his slacks. Except actually they aren't. He forgot to polish his boots and his breathing accelerates after an unconscious skip, left palm clammy when he draws it away from the rest between them.

So that he is left to just Look at her. Pleading. Dog at the vet, cat in the shower. There's still time to not do this.

It's probably more than moderately fucked up that Bella finds Flint's desperation endearing. She does, though, and that may account for the widening of her smile and the lean she does over the stick shift, hand reaching to cup a blessedly if only temporarily smooth cheek while its twin (the cheek's) gets a light kiss.

"I will get you some whiskey and eggnog the moment we're inside," Bella promises, "you will be just fine. We both will be. Just… talk a little. Make some chit chat. It won't be hard. My father likes efficient conversation. His name is Isaac. He's a real estate lawyer. My mother's name is Georgia. She's a homemaker. They are perfectly nice people."

Nice people. Unlike, therefor, their guests, however direct their relation to one of them.

Bella pops the handle and gives a heave, snapping the thin layer of ice that crept into some crevices of the door gasket. Cold air rushes in, dry as anything, and Bella ducks out before ducking back in to twist and remove the keys. Whoops. Her winter boots crunch against the salt that either Isaac laid out, or Isaac paid someone else to lay out. She dips her head down to get another look at Flint, her outside, him inside. "Come on. It's like swimming, you just have to dive in."

Not typically one to find being found endearing endearing, Deckard accepts the kiss and associate contact at a cup with no more resistance than a pathetic hike of his brows in towards each other. No tension, bristle or withdrawl. Enough so that he becomes aware of recoil's absence, Isaac the real estate lawyer and Georgia the homemaker secondary until cold air cuts in through the open door to stir him unpleasantly back to the more pressing issue of the Sheridans.

Her look back in is enough to coax him into unclicking his seat belt, knit sweater rustling warm against rented cloth interior that smells more like cigarette smoke than most of his clothing, somehow. He fumbles the latch, hooking the door open on his second try to unfold himself out into the brittle cold. All the better to Look at her again across the roof of the silver Prius, deliberate, dramatic pause lent the beat before he swings the door shut with a clop solid enough for anyone inside listening for such things to detect.

Salt under boot, sigh fogged out in a silky stream, he hikes his coat up higher around the shoulders of his retarded sweater and reaches to set his phone on vibrate. "Don't let me get drunk."

"If you'll let me stop you, I'll stop you," makes it more an agreement than a duty. Bella is, she'll admit to herself, very relieved that he brought up the issue of potential drunkenness. She'd considered broaching the topic herself, but could never figure out a way to do so without sounding… harridan-ish.

Bella might, in better weather, wait for Flint to cross over and then take his arm or his hand, escorting him to the door, taking each step with him. It would be such a nice little gesture, at least in her mind. But yeah, it's really fucking cold, and Bella is wearing only a sweater and a jacket to keep her cozy, faith placed in the short distance between car and door to keep all her extremities intact.

With a careful step that's, unfortunately, more waddling than it is ginger, Bella traces a path up from the driveway onto the flagstone path to the house. There's an icy stoop to navigate, and Bella keeps a very firm grip on the railing as she makes her way to the front door.

Moments before she jabs the doorbell, a face can be seen in the window, framed doubly in fog and red hair that's looks at least a shade darker than Bella's own. A woman's face, sporting a pair of glasses that bear astonishing similarity to Bella's own reading specs. There for just an instant before the ding-dong of a classic doorbell sound draws it away.

It reappears soon enough, attached to the rest of a woman who's features, behind the glasses, bear a great deal of resemblance to Bella's own, albeit sharper. This would most likely be Georgia. The familial similarities are the first hint. Her presence in Bella's parents' home is the second. The third one comes in the form of the hug Bella throws, accompanied by an affectionate cry of 'Mum!'. Which is a deal sealer, deduction-wise.

Lagging behind, Flint flicks his eyes on and off into a feeble flashlight strobe, searching over sidewalk and stoop (and to a lesser degree, the house itself) until the door is open and he is officially on his best behavior. Long legs stretched all Abraham Lincoln to catch him up as quick as he can manage without excusing himself from the entire affair with a coma, he is a tall, rangy and terribly conspicuous accessory in Bella's shadow.

It seems safe to study Mrs. Sheridan in silence from there, over the top of her daughter's head while ass-chapping cold burns through the brutish jut of his ears and the tip of his nose. Hug hug, kiss kiss. Big hug, little kiss.

Watching too closely turns out to be a little like staring into the sun and he doesn't force himself to stay tuned in, preferring to sneak in a last jackal-eyed scan of the house instead now that he's closer. It seems like it's been a while since he's been inside of one.

The Sheridan home is much too spacious for a married couple, even with a single child, which is all the children they ever had, Bella being an only child of the well mannered if still very self-centered mode. The decor displays much more personality than that of Bella's own pre-Chelsea accommodations, with couches and chairs that match in their age but not in their style, as well as pictures. Lots of pictures. A lone figure, presumably Mr. Isaac Sheridan, is rising from one of these chairs and making his way to the door as well.

For now, though, he's invisible to Bella, who thus lavishes her attentions on her mother. It's curious - Bella is not usually chilly so much as a little aloof, but at the sight of her mother, she is suddenly effusive. Bella's a little shorter than her mother, just barely, but the girlishness of her enthusiasm makes her seem that much wee-er. Younger.

"You look wonderful, mum," sounds ever so heartfelt, as Bella steps back from the hug, "Dad! Don't get up! I'll be right in!" is called into the house, causing the man inside to halt in his progress, shifting weight from foot to foot. He's already come this far…

Bella takes her mother's hand and turns, arm extending to indicate the lean shade of a man that she's dragged with her. "Mum, this is Flint. Flint, this is my mother, Georgia," something he already knows, but this whole thing is for appearances anyways. Georgia, for her part, is relatively discreet in the manner in which she sizes up the visitor. Whatever her first impression, whatever the effect of festive, knitted, battling dromedaries upon said impression, Georgia decides that Flint is owed a hug as well, and one is offered.

"So nice to meet you, Flint." Bella's mother speaks with the careful diction of someone who, if they didn't go to charm school, certainly exercised her elocution at some point. Well groomed if loosely so, dark red hair hanging down around her shoulders and almost certainly dyed as it shows no hint of grey, Georgia is good looking for a woman her age, which age is somewhere in fifties range, though difficult to place exactly. Handsome, would be the word. To answer Flint's ever-so-important question.

Mr. Isaac Sheridan is, for whatever genetically imperative reason, a source of greater trepidation to a Deckard than the mother figure being hugged upon at closer range. Having acquired a wary lock accordingly, it takes the sound of his name to douse his eyes dark and the rest of his attention shockily back into the foreground. His real name, if only half of it. Wasn't he going to be Mike? Didn't they agree that he would be Mike?

Mouth fallen blankly open on the cusp of correction, he shoots a naked look at Bella only to have his hesitation waylaid by the application of Mother Sheridan to his side. He stiffens against her even as he hovers an arm uncertainly around into a passably companionable squeeze, coat and sweater and shirt buffering lateral muscle locked lean over pokey ribs and old scars. Also, with any luck, the rattle and pump of his heart behind his sternum.

He doesn't quite catch himself quick enough to manage a nice to meet you back before too much time has passed, old sales instinct atrophied with disuse. Still. It's in there somewhere, and he's able to murmur a, "Pleasure's all mine," before the hug is a complete disaster.

Yes, well, Mike is so much less rugged and impressive a name, and is so much less in tune with the hard edges and sheer surfaces of Flint's physiognomy. Plus Bella is quite certain she'd slip up and then what? Claim it's a pet name? Dignity must have some value. Some wooly, llama emblazoned scrap of pride should remain.

Georgia Sheridan's hug is light and brief, blessedly so, in fact. More polite than genuinely affectionate. She does not know this man. He is vouched for by her daughter, so he is welcome in their home, but that means the extension of courtesy, no more. The older woman steps in and aside, ushering daughter and date within. It's warm in there, lion's den or not. And Bella enters fearlessly, wiping her feet on the bristly welcome mat and shuffling indoors, already unbuttoning her jacket.

The interior of Chez Sheridan is cozy, and on the fashionable end of shabby, with bookshelves in the living room and hardwood floors that are a bit scuffed. There is a fireplace, even, a genuine brick fireplace, and logs crackle and pop within as dictated by the Christmas idyll. Music drifts through the air; it sounds like a jazz composition of Linus and Lucy, inoffensive as seasonal tunes go. There's a cooking smell, savory but indistinct. Poultry, maybe?

Isaac Sheridan didn't sit back down, he remained standing, and once the family plus is inside, he crosses over to the entry, adjacent the living space. Short, only slightly taller than his wife in fact, with a roundness that is mirrored in the cuteness of Bella's own features, its from her that she got her eyes, evidently. His hair is silver and thin, and he sports a early-stage, salt and pepper beard that might make the more psychoanalytically inclined wonder at Bella's own investment in Flint's habitual stubble.

"Prodigal daughter, with a companion, no less," Isaac says, voice deep, tone well humored. He steps up to give Bella a hug, the younger woman casting her eyes heavenward. "Rum always gets you pontificatory, dad," she comments. "That," Isaac counters, "is not a word. If this were Scrabble, I'd challenge you." "But it's not," Georgia interjects, "so we needn't get the dictionary out. Instead, drinks?"

Yes please.

The fatherly eye falls fully upon Flint, and a hand is offered to shake. "Isaac Sheridan," he says, which Flint also knows already, and there's a certain grandeur to the full name that makes it sound as if 'attorney at law' were just understood to follow, if unspoken, "fine thing meeting you. I hope Isabella didn't spring this on you. It was Georgia that insisted, you know." "Untrue!" chimes that woman over her shoulder, as she makes her way to what, upon opening, looks to be a very well stocked liquor cabinet.

Brief and polite is preferable to any more extended alternative, and Flint is taking his cues from Georgia; the instant she lets go, so does he, relief deep-seated under a shiver through his diaphragm when he steps to follow in Bella's wake. Scuff, scuff, scuff across the mat, salt and snow scrubbed off with a deliberate drag that bears some sketchy resemblance to procrastination.

If he uses that time to peep Georgia's back end, he is slick enough about it that it won't become an issue.

Inside there's heat and light and Christmas music and food and a fireplace with a fire. Different from the last home he spent Christmas in. Also the same. Which is to say it's not so far from his experience that he's completely out of his element, coat shrugged off and dropped across his arm to better showcase the ridiculous camouflage of his llama sweater. Made in Mexico by a very sincere older woman who made him dinner and fell asleep while her husband watched TV and he did the dishes.

But he wasn't sleeping with their daughter.

And they weren't lawyers.

"Flint," says Flint, once he's parted with his gloves and drawn up near enough to grasp Isaac's offered hand in his own. Firm without a competitive edge, and dry. Not inclined to linger. Sales shake. The only one he knows. Aside from the bone-cracking pissing contest shake, which he hopes is not applicable here. "Sumter," is probably a last name rather than a random nonsense word to fill the space where one belongs. "She hasn't led me astray yet."

That's two lies in rapid succession, and Flint manages a sliver of a smile to the tune of the liquor cabinet being opened.

There turns out not to be a whole lot of difference between a sales shake and a lawyer shake. Cordial. Controlled. Part of a ritual rather than a form of bonding. Isaac meets Flint's eyes with an unwavering steadiness that is professional rather than confrontational. So far, so good.

"Please, have a seat," Isaac bids, moving towards the living area himself, bound for the chair he rose from. A table nearby sports a shaded ceramic lamp, as well as a tumbler of what looks like the promised eggnog. Isaac plucks the glass from its place, leaving an indentation ring on the lacquered wood. No coasters, evidently. He settles into his seat with a slowness that is almost magisterial. "The first glass has to be eggnog, just so we can justify buying it. After that we can move to straight liquor," the older man assures Flint.

"No no no…" Bella interjects, sliding off her own coat and setting it on the coat tree, "absolutely not. We're sticking to beer afterwards." She turns towards her father as she pushes her boots off, toe to heel, toe to heel, getting a little snow on her second, socked foot. Cold. Wet. Ugh. "Flint won't be able to get a word in edgewise."

For all that Bella trumpets women's lib, she doesn't protest to Georgia's preparing the drinks. She arrives in the hearth-heated living room with more glasses of eggnog, spiked generously with rum and chilled by large chunks of rough edged, chipping ice. One for each visitor. Georgia's glass of red wine is claimed in short order.

"We know how private Bella like to be," Isaac says, giving his daughter a smile that hopefully indicates that he's teasing in good humor, "but I need to know at least a little about you, if only so I can choose to avoid certain topics of conversation." "Isaac," Georgia says, a touch of faux-serious reprimand, "we're not routinely offensive, are we? What in God's name could we bring up?" "Politics, for one," Isaac offers, with a shrug of hypothesis, "foreign policy? Israel-Palestine?" "Then let's not talk about those specific things, dad," Bella suggests, like the essence of reason.

A word, edgewise or other, look hard to fit already. And they've bared begun to drink. Some hope, then, that Flint can coast through this. But hope short lived. The collective attention of the Sheridans turn upon Flint in near unison, though Bella's fragments, darting between her parents before settling on her mother, as she speaks.

"Though I admit, I'd at least like to know how you two met. If that's not a sensitive matter."

Bella doesn't speak up.

Deckard says, "Thank you," when a glass of eggnog is pushed into his hand. He takes a seat. He sits. In his red sweater and his long, naked cliff face. With his eggnog. That he said thank you for.

He hasn't kicked off his boots, but the extra time he spent scraping the snow off seems to have helped. And he doesn't want to be caught in his socks if the Institute kicks the door down. So there's that.

There's a measuring glance to Bella when Isaac does his run through of potentially offensive conversational topics but no flinching, mainly because Flint is not educated or interested in anything listed. He lost his right to vote in the 80s.

When he became a felon.

Also it is clear that this is some kind of display that he is not expressly expected to participate in. Husband and wife and daughter each in their places while he sips his drink and rubs a knuckle conscientiously after his moustache only to feel that he no longer has one. Which is about when he realizes that all three of them have gone quiet and are looking at him. All three of them. Including Isabella.

"Sex shop," is spoken clearly after a beat that feels more deliberate than missed. "We were both buying the same — "

Flint gestures.

There is the slightest narrowing of Bella's eyes, which had cut over to Flint in expectation of his response. The narrowing was, of course, at the response. It's not disapproval, not exactly or at least not visibly. The corner of her lips twitches but the direction of the twitch is indeterminate, beginning definitively neither a smile nor a frown.

And then she's talking, chin lifted with a touch of affected haughtiness. "You know how difficult it is to find a man who's not hopelessly insecure about that sort of thing," Bella says, sublimating Flint's implication with a turn of phrase and a mode of speaking that apparently passes for the joke in this household, "I asked for his number. He wasn't scared off, so, you know," she shrugs, "it was obviously worth looking into.

"He teaches high school," Bella adds, after taking a sip from her eggnog and making an obligatory face, "in the city. Which isn't, as it turns out, all fun and games." A turn of the head towards Flint, for confirmation, elaboration, even. The subtext is clear. The ball's in Flint's court.

And how. Isaac speaks up, hands steepled before him, free after having set his own drink back on the table, a maneuver requiring a lean that bears the stiffness of advancing if not advanced age. "What's your district? What neighborhood? Charter or public?" It sounds, so far, just like he's asking for information in general, not to draw any seeming judgment. Curiosity is his bent, one mirrored in Georgia's own attention. "Union or no?" she adds, as if this, too qualified as a near-bon mot.

Mr. Deckard-Sumter relents his pantomime when Bella picks up the slack, overlarge right hand felled comfortably across the rest designed to that end. And for all that the subtle reaction his story provokes in her is difficult to decipher, there is a distinctly villainous edge to the slightest pull at the corner of his mouth in when he looks over at her in turn.

But his amusement at her expense is short-lived. Because her dad starts talking again, and Flint is forced to check the goshawk core of his stare back onto him in a holy shit maybe I should have made flash cards kind of way. He has not actually met the parents of many of the girls he's. Y'know.

"District Five, in Harlem." There's a plodding pace to his answer, almost as if suspicious of what he clearly interprets to be suspicion. "It's a public school. And no." Because he doesn't know anything about unions and that was around the point he started googling porn instead.

"Really?" Isaac says, silvered brows lifting before dipping down to hood his eyes, "I didn't know education reform had cut that deep. No unions in public schools?" "Do you want to make it a cause? A late life campaign? Redeem your past sins?" Georgia teases. "And embarrass myself? God no. These laurels are perfectly comfortable. I'll lie on them, however swindled they may be," Isaac replies.

Bella takes the time during the interchange between father and mother to reach out and set a hand on Flint's arm, alighting there with a contact that seems maybe meant to be steadying. Until it turns into a light push. Bella gives Flint another look, still sort of mild to be clearly any one thing, but its in further expressive conversation.

"I'd like to bring my things inside, and up to my room," Bella says, addressing her parents, who's back and forth has ceased, "assuming you didn't let it to some eerily polite Eastern European exchange student." "How did you know about Victor?" Isaac says, with a flash of smile that suggests this is an inside joke of some kind, "you're lucky he's back visiting the motherland for the holidays…" He begins to get up, but Bella lifts her hand from Flint's arm to spread, abortively. "Flint will help me. Thanks, dad."

She gets up, considering her glass for a moment, and deciding maybe she'd rather not drink any more, setting it aside before motion for Flint to rise and follow. Georgia and Isaac remain in place, their quiet maybe just a little watchful, the intent observance seeming to be a trait shared in both parents.

Outside the snow continues to fall gently, like a torn lace curtain.

Oh. Was 'no' a weird answer? Flint's brows hood in an unconscious monkey mirror of Isaac's, already long face pulled longer through the mum-dad turnaround until he feels Bella's hand at his arm and glances after it. Then up to the rest of her.

While she comes with a good reason for them both to leave the room so that he can be commended or spanked (but probably spanked) he curls his toes in his boots and sets himself busily to the process of setting his glass down (he hesitates upon finding no coaster, then just puts it down anyway) and pushing up to his feet to tower over Bella.

"Should've gone with the speed dating story," passed off in a conspiratorial 'uh oh' aside to Father Sheridan, he halves a smile back at Georgia as he falls into step at their daughter's back. Boots and sweater, boots and sweater. He waits until they are outside before he opens his mouth again. Probably wisely.

"I am so sorry."

In what strange world are they that Bella feels the need to be apologetic? The moment they are outside, apology is what Flint gets. "I don't know what I was thinking when I asked you to come," Bella makes this sound like it's her fault, which maybe it kind of is as she cajoled him, only blame is further shifted as she continues, trudging down the walkway to the car, reaching in her pocket to remove the lanyard with the keys, "I can't quite fathom how you put up with me as it is. And they are-" she smiles, fondly, over her shoulder, a fondness whose object is hard to place, "-very much the me I think you put up with."

Bu-beep. The car's lights flash as she unlocks it. Click. The trunk peeks open. "Get my rollerboard," Bella instructs, pointing at the now-ajar trunk. She is, herself, leaning into the car, bent over and reaching out for the glove compartment, which she pops open with a thumb. A brief rummage later, and she's emerged with a blown glass pipe with orange swirls and a ziplock baggy of marijuana. A second rummage, and she has a butane lighter. She packs a small bowl as she waits for Flint to do his assigned bit. The upper body strength bit.

"Thank you for doing this," Bella says, resolutely, "I'll make it up to you. Limited carte blanche." A thumb pads down green. "Want a hit?" she offers, "I can't drink eggnog; that stuff tastes like shit."

When she apologizes Flint stops adjusting the sit of his coat to stand still, baffled blank to the tips of his unthematically off-white and utterly non-jovial gym socks. He stands there for what feels like several seconds, breaths puffed slow and thin while he watches her trudge and realizes he should still be trudging with her. Especially once she's popped the trunk.

There, the upper body strength bit is complicated by largeish piece of luggage vs smallish car trunk geometry and also the icy pavement and cold. He vanishes in accordance to instruction, spine curled into a stoop for optimal luggage manipulation that terminates prematurely in a soft whump and a peek over the top of the open trunk to see if she noticed him dropping her shit into the (fortunately soft) yard-side snow while she talks. Some quick brushing later it looks and feels fine enough for him to set it dubiously back onto its wheels on the clearer walk, only to see that she is. Lighting up. A pipe.

His next expulsion of breath is visibly larger. Also exasperated, snow sinking prickly into the bristle of his hair and colder across his shoulders. "They're going to smell it."

"Please," Bella says, giving Flint a 'look', "I have this all planned. I am not some amateur." Her thumb, getting a thorough work out, pressed down on the carb as she tries to light, the snow drifting and wind, however light, make this a little harder than it might otherwise be, but she is able to turn her back and shelter the flame sufficiently. A long draw later, and she's offering the cherry to Flint.

"First stop, the tree in the sun room. The pine will cover the scent, or at least serve as a convenient close-enough match," Bella explains, after expelling smoke through her nose, "We hit my room after, and then I have mouthwash in my bathroom, and a light perfume if we really need it. Easy as that. And like they'd really even care. My dad will try to get you to read an article on drug legalization in the Economist, given half the chance."

Bella's free hand is offered to Flint as well. If she notices the snow dusting on her luggage, she doesn't make much of it. "You're trouble, yourself. A sex shop? Jesus," this time the expression is definitely a smile, a touch contentious, but feeling herself a worthy contender, "I hope they find you funny. Because you are. At least I think you are."

The use of Sumter's name goes uncommented upon. Silences, ommissions and denials form as much a part of Sheridan life as any other family's.

His own (threadbare brown) duffel bag slung up rough onto his shoulder, Flint considers the offer of pipe glass and deeper intoxication for longer than he should. But in the end he declines, a mellow shake of his head punctuated by the muffled clap of the car trunk being swung shut and dislodged ice breaking itself against the driveway. Winter insidious even in the sharpness of the sound.

"If you take me all the way to your bedroom," goes his reasoning, paused a twitch while he ropes his hand around hers, not sure what he's supposed to do with its offer once he's taken it, "…I can't promise not to have sex with you before we go back out."

Brows lifted as if he's impressed with the reasonable nature of this warning, he examines her and then the bones in her hand, breath shuddered into a ripple against the cold.

Flint's restraint, at least in the matter of intoxicants, earns a considering look that is already just a little squintier than usual. Bella wants to wholeheartedly approve of his decision, feels herself inclined to, and that very wholeheartedness makes her suspicious. Suspicion is writ fairly large on her features, in fact, though with a pointedness that might be comic. It may be its very insincerity that is, itself, part of the comedy.

But Flint really doesn't have to worry about those finer points. They don't last. Bella bursts into snickers as he relays his warning, which may seem mean (the snickers) at first, and may continue to do so as she takes another quick puff before depositing the pipe and components on the seat of her car. She closes the door with a sharper but otherwise matching clap, the hand in his lacing fingers.

"It was a long drive in the snow," Bella says, picking up on Flint's reasonableness with a sense of continuity, "I'm tired and I've been stressed at work," she begins to lead him back along the walk, towards the front door, free hand gripping and sliding out the handle on her rollerboard, tugging it into procession behind her, "and I think I may need a brief lie down before dinner in the comfort and familiarity of my room."

Bella lets his hand go to turn the knob, opening the door into the warm interior of the house, though the heated air gets about one foot past the threshold before being thoroughly leeched, felt as no more than the faintest breath on their faces. But before she does, she lifts it to her lips and kisses his knuckles. "I'm glad you came. We'll see if we can't get you to feel the same way."

Then they're back into the breach.

Flint, who has a tendency to react poorly to being laughed at outside of his own terms, does not so much as fidget when she snickers at him. Possibly because he's already picked up on her intent to go along with him. Possibly because he is becoming stupidly lenient.

If he is he doesn't feel bad about it, an odd second guess lingering at a detached distance in a twitch at his brow here or a crease at the corner of his mouth there. He's shaken it off again by the time they're making progress up the walk, the strap of his bag creaking against his shoulder in time with progress staggered somewhat by his slower stride. "How big is your bed?" probably wouldn't be an innocent question from anyone not him, so. He doesn't really try, affect dust dry as she reaches to let them back in. "I may have to lie on top of you."

Then she kisses his knuckles and he turns down to kiss her neck in a way he really shouldn't when a parent could meerkat out from behind any corner at any second, a point of fine-etched ink black over the turn of the white oxford collar he has creased up from under his sweater.

At least the scripture isn't visible.

The kiss elicits a half-stifled cry of protest, laced further with laughter, and a concurrent push against his chest. Off, off! Gaunt as he is, he's pretty substantial, and Bella's pretty small, so she better evades him by sidestepping away, a short shuffle coupled with a slightly bloodshot glare, one belied by her smile-nearly-smirk.

A well timed dodge, as this lady of this particular manor meerkats into view, probably with assistance in mind. Bella arrests Georgia's attention by stepping right into the house, putting proprietous distance between herself and Flint, and starting to chatter without hesitation. "I need to see the tree," she says, a briskness to her tone that doesn't leave a lot of time for interjection or argument, "but then I really think I need to take a quick nap before dinner. Driving in the snow just takes it out of me."

"Bellabelle," Georgia says, the name modification delivered with an effortlessness, thoughtlessness even, that suggests a long-time pet name, "at least let us help you with your things. You'll make your father feel old." "I am old!" Isaac proclaims from his seat, "and distinguished. And patrician." "Venerable?" Bella suggests. Isaac smiles approval, levering himself to his feet. "Precisely," he agrees. "Sixty two is not old, dad," Bella counters, "for all that you are every one of those things. And we'll be fine. Just ambulate with us."

Boot are scuffed, first, though some trail of melting snow is left in the wake of the rollerboard as Bella wheels it down a hall, past a trio of doors and into a space that is probably called a sun room. The windows are large and the exposure southern, though some of the light is blocked by the great big spruce that stands in pride of place. It's bare limbed for the moment. Decorating may be on some future agenda. A black lacquered upright piano sits in a corner, festooned with songbooks and librettos, as well as pictures.

Pictures, in fact, take up a lot of this space, on surfaces vertical and horizontal, most depicting the Sheridans in various places and at various times. From one picture, a still somewhat baby-faced, early teenaged Bella, standing at the railing of some tall tower, stares out at the frame while a great big European city stretches out behind and below her. In another, a grade-school Bella, hair a good shade oranger than it is now, perches between the paws of a stone lion in what looks to be Trafalgar Square. In yet another, all three Sheridans, Isaac with more hair, Georgia's own looking less dyed, Bella maybe four or five, chubby cheeked resembling her present self only in suggestion and projection, pose on the railing of a bridge, while a river coils out behind them, the spire of a Shinto pagoda rising over the tops of flowering trees. A picture snapped by some obliging Japanese passerby.

The smell of pine and private history is pretty heavy here, the latter odor one of old upholstery and older book pages. Very homey indeed, if just a bit chilly. The heat hasn't been turned on in this room. Bella spares the tree an admiring look. "This is a hell of a pine, dad." "Got it from the youth center," Isaac says, "the decorations are all still in the basement. I though, after dinner?" "First things first, seconds second, the rest… later," Bella recites, with the cadence of proverb, and then starts for an exit in one corner of the room, telltale bannister visible, if barely.

With a grunt and a hoarse chuckle for the push, Flint seems likely to snake in for a second attempt after Bella's retreat when her mom appears, dialogue sparks. He stiffens his back out in the background, duffel adjusted like it's heavier than it looks like it should be. Probably because it is. On account've the guns.

Boots scuffed three-four after Bella's he winds along in the family's wake like a large and gangling mutt trailing random passers by for lack of anything better to do, quiet and over a step behind when the decision is unanimously made to go and visit the tree. If sixty two is old, he should probably get around to researching how old he actually is. Like.


Once they're there, a tree is a tree is a tree to a Deckard, who falls short of requisite awe in his rapid and complete absorption into the surrounding photographs instead. The personal nature of — everything he's staring at strikes him a little late, and he veers his attention uneasily away onto the floor instead. Embarrassed, almost, on his way to remembering the tree as a convenient thing to look at that isn't prying or suspect just in time for Bella to initiate the exuent. He moves after her, all without him having said a word.

The legion of smiling redheads, peering from windows into preserved pasts and memorialized moments, slide into oblique and glare-ridden obscurity as they depart the sun room. Bella gets as far as the bottom of the stairs - narrow and looking likely to creak under to heavy a gaze - before turning and bustling over to mother and father, giving them both quick, tight hugs. "I'll be sparkling and charming for dinner," she promises, "just as soon as I scrape the bags out from under my eyes." Her temporary farewell is just a little perfunctory, but in the name of making her retreat up the stairs less perfunctory all in all.

Bella grips the lower handle of the rollerboard, the sliding grip pressing up under her arm like the top of the crutch, as she heaves the piece of luggage up, step by step. The stairs groan in half-hearted protest, and Bella gives soft 'oof's of her own, but if she wants Flint to give her a hand, she may well be waiting for the weight of the parental gaze to demand his gentlemanliness. To be fair, Georgia does look at Flint with a hint of expectation. Isaac, for his part, doesn't seem too worried, looking about warmly serene as a man in his castle with rum in his stomach might be expected.

Bella is sure taking a long time with that luggage. Deckard hangs back, watching her bump the rollers up one slowass stair at a time with a tolerant air before it occurs to him that he should. Reach in and.

A glance back at her parents to see if they've noticed him just standing there is enough to spur him forth an awkward beat later, late off the block. Up the stairs two at a time to relieve her of her big block of junk, left hand wound hard into the grip with a muffled, "Here," as in, 'here let me get that sugarbuns.' The sugarbuns is silent and he is too disconcerted by the way Georgia is looking at him to be funny.

"Thanks," sounds about grateful enough to precede a similar unspoken pet name, like maybe, 'thanks so much, grizzly bear'. The gratitude is likely as much for the show of help as for the help itself, as Bella suppresses an urge to check her parents' faces. To the Sheridans' credit, they don't hang around just, like, watching. Georgia makes to leave before thinking better, deciding she has to announce: "Dinner's roast chicken and hearty fixings." To which Isaac adds, "hearty Germanic fixings." "Tastily teutonic," Bella replies, completing some ritual evocation or other. Circle closed, watchful parentals officially break vigil, peeling back to the living room.

It's a short distance from the top of the stairs, beneath the dangle of an attic door drawstring, that the door to Bella's room sits. The wood of the door is slightly cracked, top panel split along two thirds its length with a crooked line that leaks just a trickle of yellow light. Inside, a halogen lamp rises up in the far corner of a space painted robin's egg blue, that sweet, gentle shade. A desk with a bastion of paleolithic looking desktop computer bears watch towers of CD holders, jewel cases looking relic here, at the end of the decade. Prints hang in fancy white frames on the wall, images of world landmarks - the Pantheon, Big Ben, the Great Pyramids - the shots attempting elegant but clearly amateur. Three shelves line the walls, two filled with books, the other festooned with objects: a handful of plaques and certificates (science fairs, mathletics, honorable mention at chess), a pair of big round gold medals (first place in the yearly, state wide Latin contest), the navy blue square of a graduate cap, the plastic lettering on the silver tassel reading '1999'. Dead center, a big four poster bed, a queen if it's anything at all, which may be brass underneath a layer of white paint.

Bella moves at once to the closet door, revealing a walk in affair with a vanity at the far end. She points within. "Put it in here. I'll unpack later," she says, a bit brusque, "don't look around too hard. I'm allowed an obscured past," she lifts a finger, "and I'm not joking. Keep those eyes in line." As a matter of courtesy, and meeting half-way, she reaches in and flicks the light switch on. Bad enough is the curlicued script in silver on the upper curve of the vanity's mirror: 'Isabella'.

Given the specifically evolved nature of Deckard's penetrative perception, the average 'other person' is at a disadvantage before hello when it comes to retaining any sense of private mystique. Whether they know it or not.

Bella obviously does, even going so far as to warn him against prying, which stops him for — about as long as it takes her to take her eyes off of him. The Luggage dispatched in a damp, clothy pile somewhere in the closet's middle, Flint sizes up the vanity mirror and the Isabella at a surreal distance, brows tilted and eyes unsure. If this is what she meant by not looking. Because that one's right there.

Slower to extract himself from the walkin than he should be, he looks only briefly to the aging computer before his eyes try to skip to the shelf of medals and certificates and books. Standing awkwardly upright just outside of the closet, hands kept consciously at his sides where they can't reach for anything, he resets his focus onto her instead, muffling his own periphery. It only takes him a few seconds to retreat into his own ability when he feels his attention slipping again, irises flushing a bloodless shade of tell-tale grey against the light.

Bella's asked Flint before if he gets a thrill out of prying any more. That Bella would want to preserve a mystique is, of course, symptomatic only of not really having anything to hide. What could she want him not to see? Boxes of jewelry, marking eras where taste and maturity had not yet developed to their current, minimal meets scornful peak? Spent compacts, hoarded in some strangely stingy impulse? Scrunchies? Probably a lot of those, considering her generational orientation. There is little in a scrunchy worth hiding, which is exactly why you'd want it hidden. Not knowing invites so much more impressive speculation.

When the door closes, the last strains of yet another inoffensive Christmas tune (Pachebel's Canon, this time) are shut out. Bella has begun to thumb through her own CD collection, back turned, basically asking Flint to disregard her proscription. She catches the corner of one jewel case, tugs it free, smiles at the cover. Whistful. Caught in a moment of her own nostalgia. She glances over her shoulder at Flint, catching him with spectrum-wandering eyes. "Hey," she says, less sharply than she expected, setting the jewel case on the desk and turning to face Flint, "Look at me."

Compliance is immediate if not precisely guilty. He looks at her skeleton and the empty dishes in the dome of her skull where eyes go, pupils ticking over sharp from medal to mandible where his grizzled head declines to turn. He looks older without his scruff, or at least more responsible: a tax attourney or college professor, even. Not the drunk guy passed out on the subway train or the asshole who robbed two 7-elevens in a cowboy hat last week.

Evidently waiting for some further reprimand or prompt, he doesn't say anything for himself, but scrubs absently after his dueling llama sweater.

A few steps bring Bella up, near toe to toe with Flint, her hands going up to smooth what wrinkles distort those noble creatures and their struggle. Her thumbs slipping to cover the fur lining of their hats, then further down to leave the llama's headless and their hats floating, Bella examines the knitted thing like it's the Bayeux Tapestry.

"Where in God's name did you get this thing, again?" Bella asks, looking up at him, the presumed authority. A fine piece of work like this, he must know its provenance, "I need to know so I can stop wondering." She doesn't need a festive enigma of rumpled wool on her mind.


There's no reason to lie. Granted, there's no reason to be reluctantly reticient about it either, and he is definitely that — more evasive now that she's pouring over it at closer range. She knows he went to Mexico for a while. He remembers seeing her before he left, if not much of what he might've told her after. "Someone made it for me."

Is nostalgia contageous? There's a tightness to the swallow he forces down after admitting as much, in all its vaguery. "I like your parents."

"It's awful," Bella says, adjusting the collar - purposelessly - before stepping back a little to get a really proper look at it, mock-art critic's eye engaged. A smile flashes across her face. "I like it."

And however awful her own parents might seem, he likes them too. Or so he says. And would there be reason to lie? Ample reason, actually, and Bella views Flint with lack suspicion that is generous considering. Which isn't to say no suspicion.

"Why?" she wonders.

"I dunno." Stock answer to stock question. Infinitely less self-conscious about the sweater and any adjustments she sees fit to make than he could be, Flint shrugs a hazy shoulder once she's done. "They're not that bad." An unholy scan of spectral eyes around the room past her is an expansive gesture rather than a laggard attempt to sneak another quick pry in while she's distracted. "They kept your stuff."

"Only child," Bella explains, "the novelty of me never wore off." An arm extends and a nail picks at a loop of yarn in the no-llama's-land between the battling pair. "They're not bad, but they do have hang ups about courtesy," something Bella has inherited herself, though more in the form of pet peeves than systemic behavior, "it wouldn't be right to keep them waiting long once dinner's ready. So…" her brows lift, expectant, as she pokes at his sternum with the tip of her finger.

Mum and dad in the kitchen. Tree in the den. Flint turns his eyes off at a quiet blank and leans in to kiss her, effort initially mild in the setting and then — less so. A ghost of old reservation in unfamiliar territory.

Also he is unzipping his slacks at the same time and trying to make himself to remember not to just kick them off on the floor where they will accumulate 'for some reason these pants were not actually on Mr. Sumter' creases.

There's a certain feline satisfaction, with a matching feline sense of superiority, that curls her lips as he's kissing her. Bella has it in her to mock Flint's haste, but even if she were feeling that nasty (which she's not) it's haste at her behest. There's no time to waste, as the cooking smells they have only recently left the range of attest, and while that is exactly what makes his speed blameless, it's also that sense of urgency that has her nearly laughing against him. A short, sharp tug backwards, and she's bumped against the foot of the bed.

What part nostalgia, summoned by surroundings of a long and consistent childhood and adolescence, play in what goes through Bella's head is hard to say. More diverse and stranger alchemies have brewed there before. Let it rest. These are the holidays. This is a vacation. And she needn't work on herself in her own home.

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