Stranded world, after the Thanksgiving stories of recent.
Autumn’s mother greeted them warmly, hugging Gregor as if he was her own son, which, considering how often he showed up at family events, he might as well be. “Merry Christmas, Gregor. Merry Christmas, Autumn. Two holidays in a row! Truly I’m blessed.”
“Thank you, Mom.” Autumn smiled uncertainly at her mother’s effluvient happiness. “Summer said she wasn’t coming home for this one…?”
“Neither Summer nor Winter, but Spring will be home soon with her young man. I put your mail on your bed, honey.”
“Mail?” She blinked. “It came here and not my drop box? I’m sorry, Mom, I tried to get everything routed so it didn’t bother you…”
“Autumn, Autumn, helping out my daughter doesn’t bother me. Any of my daughters. It was just a couple things, anyway.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Feeling guilty, embarrassed, AND curious all at once, Autumn glanced at Gregor.
“I’ve seen your bedroom, Autumn. I’ve slept in your bedroom.”
“Shh, don’t tell my Mom,” she joked, winking at her mother. “I’ve sort of dying to see what this is,” she apologized.
“You and me both, darling.”
The mail was mostly prosaic – junk mail, a high school reunion letter, a mis-mailed bill. The small box, however, caught her eye, and she nearly opened it without reading the wrapping.
There was no return address, simply a postmark – Tucson, Arizona. She knew that handwriting, though, knew it better than she knew his voice.
“Tattercoats,” she whispered. “He always leaves things in the drops.”
“Maybe he didn’t want to risk it getting into the wrong hands?” Gregor offered.
“But what…” She opened the package with numb fingers. The box inside was no more explanatory, a simple carved box like you could buy in fairs and fests across the land. Her hands barely worked as she opened the small thing.
The paper was on top, and for a moment she was afraid this was a cruel joke, a prank of Tattercoats. He’d done small things of that sort before. She opened the paper without looking underneath, willing her fingers to feel again. Willing her heart to beat.
My Lady Fall, my Autumn Leaf.
I am a coward, and so a coward you find me, mailing this to your mother’s home rather than bringing it to you, sending you this instead of a ring that you so deserve, mailing you this instead of appearing, myself, with an apology. For an apology this is, and a hope that, after my dreadful behaviour, you may still consider me,
Your Bard for now and always,
She stared at the pendant, worked in gold, worked to look like one of her own trees, a ruby nestled in its trunk, its branches reaching up to hold the chain. “Bastard,” she whispered, her eyes wet with tears. She’d almost managed to walk away.
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