Cautiously, with Sid at my heels, I walked through to the front of the house and opened the door. I went out on the porch, grabbing Sid’s collar with my other hand. We both looked down.
A vaguely familiar-looking young man was climbing down from a large old pick-up truck. It wasn’t as large as Merry, and it was probably twenty years younger, but it was still large and old. Although it was recognisably a color—in this case blue—which put it one up on my vehicular doom. He looked up at me and smiled. “Hi,” he called. He reached down and picked up an armful of the stuff I’d left next to the van. I was too bemused by the entire apparition to protest. He came up the stairs and as he got within ordinary speaking distance said, “Someone’s moving in, you don’t waste climbing stairs empty handed. Serena said you were moving in today and guessed you could use some help. And the garage can do without me for a few hours so I thought I’d come along.” He was by now at the top of the stairs, and he put his free hand out. “I’m Mike.”
I let go of Sid’s collar to take his hand. “Mike,” I said. “Mike? You mean the man—er—responsible for Merry?”
“That would be me, yeah,” he said, grinning.
“That blue thing is a pale shadow of the juggernaut magnificence that is Merry,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “But Nilesh there has several times the horsepower, and every winter as well as ploughing I spend a lot of time dragging people out of snowbanks.”
I sighed. “I want to say ‘don’t look at me’ but you probably will be looking at me. I hope you also run a winter taxi service for terrified urban exiles. Of course you will still be looking at me.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you fixed up with sandbags and chains ’long about October. Merry’ll handle better in snow than any car. If we have a late blizzard this spring I’ll make Dad give Serena time off to take you to Majormojo to stock up.”
“Late blizzard?” I said. “It’s April.”
“Sure,” he said. “We can have snow late as May. It’s not real common, but it happens. We had snow in June once when I was a kid, and we were really pissed off because school was already out.”
In the city we had two kinds of snow, mostly. We had the kind that didn’t happen when everyone was ready for it and the kind that did happen when nobody was. Gelasio missed a meeting with some millionaire client once because they closed the subways after one of the second kind of blizzard. We made snow angels in Central Park instead. I wasn’t thinking about Gelasio.
Sid had moved to sniff Mike’s trousers. Her tail began to wag. He bent down far enough to rub her ears in a person-familiar-with-dogs sort of way. “That’s Carmine or Otis or Poppy or Fred. Or Lorenzo. Bridget told me the Phantom had adopted you.”
I noticed his word order at the same time I realised why he looked familiar. Bridget. Eats. “You were sitting at the counter yesterday,” I began.
“When some strange woman with a city accent started talking to her tea cosy,” he said. “Yeah. That was me.”
“Which was the moment it dawned on you that here was some poor out of town yo-yo you could foist your primitive vehicle on.” Up close he was older than I’d thought. He might be my age.
“You could buy a car from Odin,” he said, grinning, “if you like doing a lot of walking.”
“The real estate flyer promised the underground would make it to Cold Valley by the end of the year,” I said blandly. Sid had worked her way around our visitor and was now sniffing his other pant leg with close attention.
“That the same real estate flyer that promised all the old lake houses have buried treasure in their back yards from the Great Depression? When all the high society ladies raced up here to bury their jewellery so it couldn’t be repossessed?”
“And didn’t dig it up again later? Wow. They all must have drunk too many martinis. That cheap bathtub gin’s a killer.”
“Yeah.” He looked up at the front door. My front door. I hadn’t noticed before, there was a narrow rectangle of stained glass above it. I could see it twinkle faintly in the shadow of the porch roof but I couldn’t see if it was an illustration of anything rather than just bits of colored glass. I hoped for roses rather than star-spawn. “At least you got a real one,” he went on. “They’ve insulated a few of the old summer houses for incomers who want glamor and don’t care about the fuel bills, but it’s mostly a botched job.”
“Hayley said there’s only one other year-round house left from Cold Valley’s boom years last century.”
“There are a few others,” he said. “They’ve just never come on the real estate radar.”
Was it my inner Cthulhu viewing humanity malignly or did he look shifty as he said that?
He looked back at me and smiled. “But this is a good house. I’m glad someone’s finally living in it.”
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