He wasn't used to gatherings like this anymore. Keeping people at a distance was his modus operandi these days, and inviting guests over was antithetical to that.
But Abe wanted to feed people, or so he claimed. If Henry's presumptions were correct, what Abe really wanted was more friends in Henry's life. "So I invited a few people you know over for dinner tonight."
"Abe," Henry said, warning in his tone.
"Don't you 'Abe' me. Here." He thrust a bottle of an excellent red wine into one of Henry's hands, and a small block of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a grater into the other. "Take this up to the roof," he said. "And you know, some of us like having more than one friend. Maybe you should try it out sometime."
"We've been over this before. I..." No, protesting would be useless. Henry sighed. To forestall the age-old argument, he asked, "Who did you invite?"
Abe shrugged a shoulder. "A few people: Jo, Lucas, Mike Hanson and his wife, the lieutenant—I think that's it. Hanson sends his regards, by the way. I think he said one of the boys might've broken his brother's nose, but it was hard to tell over all the yelling and cursing."
"Ah, the joys of raising sons." Henry chuckled.
"Aren't you glad you only had one kid?"
"Considering how much trouble you got into?" Henry said, teasing. "I'm not sure your mother and I had it much better. More often than not, Abigail and I felt as though we were raising ten children instead of one."
Abe laughed—a sound Henry would never tire of hearing. "No regrets," Abe said.
No regrets on his own part, either. His son was still quite the troublemaker, but Henry wouldn't trade that for anything. And if Abe wasn't going to let go of the idea of increasing the number of friends in Henry's life, well. These days, Abraham was right about people more often than not.
"Here," Abe said, holding out a wooden spoon covered in red sauce. "Before you run off, try this. See if it's okay."
The sauce smelled wonderful, like the rich scent of home. Henry gave it a taste, and made an appreciative noise. Vibrant, complex flavor, the tomatoes complimented beautifully by the herbs, the garlic, and a small kick of chili pepper. "Perfect," he said. "Absolutely delicious, as usual."
Abe sampled it for himself and nodded. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, that's good stuff."
Henry gestured toward a bowl of meatballs sitting on the counter with the end of the bottle. "You're serving those on the side?"
"Yep," Abe replied. "Thought about doing your typical spag bol, but turns out the lieutenant's a vegetarian. Which I wasn't expecting. Now get out of here—wine, cheese, go. Then come back and get the dishes."
"When did it become acceptable for the son to order around the father?" Henry asked, but only in jest.
He stole a meatball, earning an amused, "Hey!" from Abe, and headed for the roof, grateful for the distraction of being put to work. It eased the unexpected flare-up of nerves in his chest. He knew these people well, worked closely with them all, had broken bread with all of them but the lieutenant. Jo and Lucas even knew his secret now, and had more than earned his friendship and trust.
And yet he felt as though he needed to make a good impression. Though Abe had invited groups over for dinner a number of times over the years, Henry usually didn't attend, and he hadn't been one of the hosts in decades. Abigail, much like Abe, loved having an opportunity to entertain guests. How long had it been since their last one? Since the 1960's, at least, back when they didn't appear so dramatically different in age, and shortly after he'd begun his stint as a gravedigger. They'd been living elsewhere at the time, he believed...
"You look beautiful, darling," he told Abigail, as she tried to fix her makeup—which, from his perspective, didn't need to be adjusted at all.
"You always say that," she said, but her tired frown became a smile.
"Because it's always true." He wrapped an arm around her and kissed her cheek, and tried not to notice the new creases at the corners of her eyes, the new lines across her forehead. He didn't want to think of how finite she was tonight.
"I need to make a good impression. The Warringtons are—"
"You have absolutely nothing to worry about," he insisted. "You are incapable of making a bad impression. Me, on the other hand..."
The sound of his name amidst the soft jazz playing on a record player nestled in the corner brought him back to the present. He pushed his memories of Abigail aside with a stern, Not tonight.
Jo stood in the rooftop doorway, grinning softly at him, and carrying stack of plates in her hands. A warm glow filled his chest as he looked at her. She was lovely as always, with her hair pulled back, and her professional clothes traded for dark jeans and a sleeveless, plum-colored top. Part of him relaxed at the sight of her—his dearest friend, who, thankfully, seemed pleased to see him.
"Abe asked me to bring these up," she said, as she carried the plates to the table, and they both got to work setting them out. "Said you were probably daydreaming again, so I'd better do it."
Ducking his head slightly, he said, "Guilty as charged."
"Where were you this time—or when?"
He hesitated. Would the wounds stop feeling so fresh anytime soon, he wondered, and gave Jo the simplest answer. "Abigail."
"Ah." Jo nodded once, her expression one of understanding. "It's hard not to think about them, isn't it?"
Impossible would be more accurate, especially when the world was a minefield of memories. "Yes, it is." He tried to clear the pang of emotion in his throat. "But I'd rather not dwell on that tonight. How are you this evening?"
"Uh, not much different than I was when I saw you an hour ago?" she said, with a laugh.
They chatted as they made their way down to the kitchen, falling easily into conversation. Dinner would be an excellent way to celebrate solving one of their more difficult cases. Work still weighed heavily on both of their minds, however, and as they gathered silverware and glasses, they began discussing the case, continuing until they'd gone up to the roof and had returned to the kitchen for the bread.
"Stop talking shop!" Abe admonished. "You said you solved it. Why not talk about something relaxing, like—"
With a mischievous smirk, Henry interrupted with, "Like some of the more interesting stories from your childhood?"
"Yes!" Jo said, at the same time Abe replied, "God, no!"
"I wanna hear the good stuff," Jo said.
Abe huffed, and under his breath, he muttered, "Traitor," but the gleam in his eye gave away his amusement.
"We'd better get back up there before I end up taking an impromptu trip to the river," Henry said, and started for the door, Jo close behind. "Come on—I'll tell you about the first time Abe tried to cook on his own."
"You'd better not!" Abe called out.
Henry didn't listen, already saying, "The first thing Abe tried to cook? A cake."
"Oh, no," Jo said, with a groan.
That incident had been a complete disaster. Henry had made the mistake of revealing his birthday to Abe, followed by, "But I don't celebrate it anymore. I'm a bit too old for that, I'm afraid."
"Not even a birthday cake?" Abe sounded sad about the idea. "But it's important!"
"Let me tell you a secret about adulthood." Henry pulled his son into a one-armed hug—it was getting more and more difficult to do that; Abe was growing so fast. "When you become an adult, you don't need a birthday to have a special cake for yourself. You can make or buy one whenever you'd like!"
Abe's lips were still twisted in a frown. "Does that mean I can't celebrate my birthday when I grow up?" he asked. "Birthdays are important! I don't want to grow up if I can't have birthday cake!"
"And then Abe decided that me not getting a birthday cake on my birthday simply wouldn't do," Henry told Jo, and handed her a glass of wine, then poured one for himself. "So he got up early on my birthday that year, and not too long afterward, Abigail and I awoke to an apartment full of smoke and Abe screaming about the kitchen being on fire."
"Oh, it gets better. As it turns out, he didn't burn the cake—not then, anyway; he barely cooked it." Henry took a sip of his wine. "He thought an hour was too long to wait for a cake, so he turned the temperature much too high and then took the cake out after only a few minutes...and somehow left a dishtowel behind in the oven—Lord only knows how."
Jo cringed, eyes sparkling with amusement. "Ooh."
"Indeed," Henry said. "The towel ignited, and he tried to put out the fire by pouring cake batter on it." With a shudder, Henry added, "I'll never forget the smell—burnt cloth and cake batter. Terribly unpleasant."
"I bet." Jo laughed.
"And even that doesn't compare to the nightmare of having to clean it." That brought more memories to the surface. He shook his head. "Until I became a father, I never would've imagined just how much of a mess one young boy could make on a regular basis. Even then, it had been a very long time since my own childhood."
"You know," Jo said, "I'm still picturing you as this adorable little kid with a scarf. Or the 1800's equivalent."
"Late 1700's," he corrected. "And you're not too far off. I—"
The sound of Abe loudly saying, "Go on and have a seat, Lieutenant," interrupted Henry's words.
"It was a long time ago," Henry said, with an apologetic shrug.
The tantalizing sweetness of fresh yeast rolls and the rich scent of beef ragù followed them to the front door. He and Abigail greeted Dr. and Mrs. Warrington with cordial smiles. After they all exchanged introductions and pleasantries, Mrs. Warrington said, "Something smells delightful."
Beaming with pride, Henry said, "Yes, Abigail has outdone herself once again."
Soon after Reece's arrival, the sound of an enthusiastic whoop that could only belong to Lucas came up the stairs. Reece sighed, and downed a lengthy swallow of wine.
"Oh, Lucas isn't too terrible once you get to know him," Henry said. "He grows on you after a while, I'm afraid."
"I'm sure he does," Reece said, with a wry smile.
Lucas carried a large, steaming bowl of spaghetti and red sauce out with him, saying, "Woo hoo! Time to par-tay! I—oh." He stopped in the doorway. "Hi, guys."
"Coming through!" Abe nudged Lucas on with the edge of the dish of meatballs, and they both carried the food to the table. "Now, don't feel the need to stand on any kind of ceremony here, folks." He shot Henry a pointed look, and Henry narrowed his eyes and defiantly smoothed his napkin in his lap. "This is a family kind of dinner. Eat up, drink up, hell, slurp up your spaghetti if you want—but don't do too much, all right? There's a nice Nutella zuccotto for dessert." At Lucas's and Jo's baffled expressions, Abe explained, "Sort of a cream-filled sponge cake, but better."
Abe poured himself a glass of wine and sat, and he held up the glass for a toast. "To good food, great company, and putting another murderous scumbag behind bars where he belongs." Everyone enthusiastically drank to that, then Abe added, "Now dig in."
As the food was passed around the table and dished out, excitement filled the air, and was quickly joined by delight as everybody began to eat.
"Excellent work, as always," Henry said to Abe, and a chorus of nods and murmurs of agreement went up amongst the guests.
"I really need the recipe for this sauce," Reece said. "My brother and nephew would love this. What's your secret?"
"If I told you that, it wouldn't be a secret, would it?" Abe said. "Now, the trick is..."
"...to take your time," Abigail said. "Some sauces can be rushed, but if you want it to be perfect, this is not one of them."
Henry loved listening whenever Abigail explained a dish she'd cooked. Her passion as she detailed each step for Claudia Warrington lit up the dining room. Fondness filled his heart, and spilled over into his blood. How many times could a man fall in love with his wife again and again until his heart burst from it?
Richard Warrington, however, didn't bother to hide his disinterest. "So, I hear you used to be a doctor," he said, with an air of superiority, followed by a number of words Henry'd long since forgotten.
Etiquette demanded Henry respond politely, no matter how much he wished to do otherwise.
"Do you think I could make 'em look like little brains?" Lucas asked. "Like, little meatball brains—do you think they'd hold their shape? Maybe with, like, egg or something?" Henry exchanged an exasperated and amused look with Jo, while Reece rolled her eyes. "My cousin always has this massive Halloween party every year, and my snacks are always totally lame? But this year? Is so going to be my year. Meatball brains. Awesome, right?"
Lucas's enthusiasm for the bizarre had grown on Henry considerably, but not that much. Tuning out Abe's indulgent response, Henry turned his attention to Reece. "How is Detective Vann's investigation into the Lorenzo murder going? He's shut me out of it, I'm afraid. Any new leads?"
Reece stabbed at her pasta with more force than necessary. "Vann's got everything under control," she said, voice tight.
"Ah." Henry suspected her annoyance wasn't directed at him. He didn't put much stock in gossip himself, but hearing rumors about Vann's behavior had become unavoidable. What he'd seen—and smelled—around the veteran detective added more than enough credence to the rumors. This wasn't the best time to bring up the vodka Detective Vann kept in his water bottles. "My sympathies, Lieutenant."
A new song began to play—one of Abe's favorites—and the irritation on Reece's face faded into a smile.
Abe's eyes lit up. "God, I love this song," he said. He glanced around the table, and, catching sight of Reece's happiness, asked, "Isn't it great?"
Reece replied, "One of the best," and soon, the two of them were engaged in enthusiastic discussion about music. Jo and Lucas had both heard the song in a recent movie, and they both piped in with their opinions. Content, Henry sat back and listened, letting their conversations wash over him. Yes, this dinner looked to be a success.
Dinner with the Warringtons went downhill quickly. Claudia was rather pleasant, but Richard was an intolerable boor. Trying to talk to the man felt like navigating a treacherous minefield of arrogance and ignorance—one of Henry's least favorite combinations of traits.
"I find my new profession to be quite rewarding," Henry said. "I provide a valuable service to—"
Warrington said something snide, his words lost to the decades between memory and future, and Henry's mouth hung open longer than propriety allowed.
"Everybody dies," Abigail retorted, coolly, her nigh infinite patience clearly wearing thin. "Henry helps make that a tad easier for people to bear. And I am quite proud of him for it. He's a good man."
"'Bang!'" Abe smacked the table, and Henry jumped, torn away from his memories. "And next thing I knew, he was coming up from that dungeon of his with his eyebrows singed off and his hair all over the place like Albert Einstein's kid brother."
Oh, not that story. Henry groaned. "Must you?"
"I always kinda sucked at chemistry," Jo said, "but even I know better than to do that."
"I was running on three days of no sleep," Henry protested, "and I had a terrible case of influenza."
"Broke a few pieces of really good glassware," Abe said, "and we're lucky it didn't bring down the whole shop, but, God, it was worth it."
"Pics or it didn't happen!" Lucas said.
"I don't think Abe took any—" Henry began, hopeful, but Abe cut him off.
"You know, I think I still have one or two on my phone," Abe said, pulling his cell phone from his jeans pocket, and he began tapping on the screen. "Hang on just a minute—there."
Abe held up the phone, showing off Henry's embarrassing photograph, and as they laughed, he dropped his head in his hands. It was a rather amusing picture, he had to admit, but damned if he'd let Abe know he agreed. Instead, he hid his smile behind his palm, and forced a scowl when Abe glanced in his direction.
Abe snorted quietly, then leaned in and murmured, "Revenge is sweet," in Henry's ear. A huff of a laugh escaped Henry's throat, and he gave Abe a pat on the back.
Somebody's phone began to ring. Reece retrieved hers from the pocket of her jacket, and heaved a sigh when she saw the display. "I have to take this," she said, and she excused herself and headed inside. Through the door, Henry could hear her talking, but her words were too muffled to understand. He quickly gave up on eavesdropping and turned his attention on the others.
"Got anymore pictures like that?" Jo asked.
"Do I?" Abe chuckled. "I've got plenty. Henry's an eternal source of amusement—in more ways than one."
"Oh, just remember I am armed with a large number of stories about you, Abraham," Henry teased. "And more than a few photographs you'd wish didn't exist if you knew what they were."
"Baby pictures?" Lucas asked, in a hopeful tone.
Henry nodded, and sipped his wine. "You'd never guess it now, from the utter menace he's become since then—"
"—but Abe used to be quite adorable in his youth." Henry smiled at the memory. "And he was rather enamored with the camera during his younger years."
"It had a big light that flashed, and it looked funny," Abe said. "Of course I liked it."
Reece came back outside, but didn't join them at the table. "I'm needed at the precinct," she said, expression pinched. Then, in a dry tone, she added, "Henry? Remind me not to complain next time you go sleepwalking in the East River. At least you don't tear up government property without a damn good reason."
Henry winced. "I wish you luck, Lieutenant," he said, "and I hope once you've dealt with that situation, your weekend greatly improves."
"Oh, wait," Abe said, getting to his feet. "You said you wanted to borrow my Pepper Evans album, didn't you? Here, let me go grab that for you."
With the departure of Reece and Abe, a quiet lull settled over the table. Lucas, never one to pass up an opportunity to break a silence with his awkwardness, glanced between Henry and Jo and said, "So, it's just us and Abe. This is kind of like a club meeting now, isn't it? The 'Keepers of Henry Morgan's Big Old Secret Club, huh? Huh?" Lucas finished his wine, and added, "I never thought I'd be someone who's 'in the know' about a secret like this—. Almost as cool as knowing a real, live immortal."
"You've wanted to talk about it all night, too, haven't you?" Jo teased.
"Uh, yeah," Lucas said. "I mean, it's only the coolest thing in the history of ever, am I right? How many people can say one of their friends is over two hundred?"
Friends—was that right? Henry considered it for a moment. Yes, it was safe to say that he and Lucas were friends now. "Assuming Adam doesn't have friends," which seemed rather likely, "then I believe only three people are able to say so: You, Jo, and Abe."
"Yes!" Lucas pumped his fist. "An exclusive club! I'm not in many of those. Is there a secret handshake? There totally needs to be a secret handshake. Do I get to ask questions? 'Cause I've seriously got a ton of questions. Like what's the weirdest way you've di—"
"No talking about his deaths!" Abe made his return, carrying a platter topped with the dome-shaped, chocolate zuccotta, and with another wine bottle wedged tightly under one arm. "None of that depressing stuff tonight."
Briefly, Lucas's face fell, but it brightened again when he came up with another question. "Okay, so, what's the best part of being immortal?"
"The best part?" Henry asked, and considered the question.
"I thought they'd never leave." Abigail slumped against the door, and Henry kissed her cheek.
"I'm sorry the evening didn't turn out as well as you'd hoped, my love," Henry said, pulling her into his arms, and he nuzzled behind her ear. "But I do have some ideas to make up for the disappointment."
"You are incorrigible." She turned around, and with a wicked smile, added, "That's one of the best things about you."
The night improved dramatically after that.
"The best part of being immortal," Henry said, "is having the chance to enjoy countless evenings like this with the wonderful people in my life."
"And I'd say this evening was a success," Abe said, "wouldn't you?"
"Definitely," Jo answered.
"Yep," Lucas said.
Henry raised his glass. "And I'd like to propose another toast, if you all don't mind: To excellent evenings with wonderful friends. May we all have more of them."
"Cheers," Abe said.
They all clinked glasses and drank, and Henry smiled to himself. They would definitely need to do this again someday.