Angela had to lean over to talk to the child almost to his knees in powdery snow. Her son gleefully pointed at his first snowman. Here the stick-nose, there the pebbly teeth.
For a four-year-old, she reflected, it wasn’t a bad effort. It was also his first solo attempt. She was appropriately complimentary. Mateo beamed up at her and gathered up more snow to make Frosty’s head bigger.
In another drift, Caleb cocked his head at Big Brother’s motions and attempted to parrot them. The results failed to satisfy. He abandoned the attempt and went back to patting snow into a clumsy pyramid.
The family house of three years crouched in the functional middle of nowhere, somewhere near the edge of the Yukon. Even Angela wasn’t one hundred percent sure where.
She knew the long snowmobile ride from the village a few hours away, and how to get to home from the airstrip, but she couldn’t tell someone where she lived. The house itself was some hunter’s old winter retreat, sold to her under Chrissy’s financial banner for veritable peanuts—probably because it could only be reached by a day’s rough driving, and it was snowed or mudded in for nine months of the year. The pair of women had gutted, rebuilt, and expanded—just enough to fit two growing boys, their mother, and a vampire au pair.
Angela had to chuckle into her glove at the sudden image of how Chrissy would react to being labelled ‘au pair’. Or ‘vampire’, for that matter. The pair of them had been together through a whole world of hell since the Portland bus station: three moves, two births, a werewolf, a string of murders, two vicious family turf wars, and one extremely persistent ex – and never once had it crossed Angela’s mind that she might have made it through on her own.
Mateo looked up at her quizzically. Her giggle bemused him.
Smiling to reassure him, Angela helped select another snowman tooth from a selection Mateo had grubbed up. The house was her greatest triumph after her boys. One storey; eight-rooms; a big fireplace for winter; a bigger deck for summer. Angela liked that her den was away from everything, nestled in a valley beyond avalanche reach. The old lodge peeked into a clearing hemmed with pine trees, its stone and wood appearing old as time itself, but warm and cosy on the inside. A heavy winter blanketed the pines currently, and the ground was hard as iron beneath the frosted drifts.
She’d made it a home with Chrissy’s help, selected the property with Luke’s. The latter had been an experience – another mistake – she avoided thinking. Too many times she’d strayed down the path of wondering ‘What if Jake was wrong’, and thought herself into funks lasting days.
The fact of the matter was, Luke would never be coming around her or her boys again and Jacob didn’t know where this place was. Only herself, Chrissy, and a handful of locals in the far-off town (slowly warming to them) knew.
At her feet, Mateo cooed and gave Frosty’s head a final pat. Now he was done with that, he turned to the drift he’d been eyeing since coming outside and unleashed a battle-cry. Angela smiled. The little warrior charged full-tilt into the drift, face bright as a beacon, and buried himself in it.
He popped up a moment later laughing madly with his padded navy jacket crusted with white. More white was melting through his short black hair. Her winter boy.
He was undaunted, as four-year-olds often were, by the sudden saturation and cold. Never mind those: it was snow, and snow was the most wonderful thing in the world. (Never mind that in summer, it would be paper boats; and in spring, wildflowers and the bees they attracted.)
In his own patch of snow, her other son gurgled at the pile he’d made and patted the sides down harder. He was more cheerful than Mateo had been—probably because she was more cheerful than she had been.
Escaping Calgary had unsettled them all. Angela was just now beginning to feel like she’d finally found her Forever Home.
She turned back just as Mateo surfaced from his melt-cave with a wild giggle. Angela tucked her gloved hands into her pockets and shifted her weight to her other foot, smiling indulgently at her firstborn.
There were cups of cocoa keeping warm beside the fire, and earlier that afternoon Chrissy had helped the boys carry all the rugs and pillows in the house into the living room. With the redhead overseeing construction (and fire safety) they’d built one big soft cubby-nest. Mateo had proudly declared it his den and Caleb, still learning to talk, seized on the word and trumpeted it with delight.
Sofas backed the comfy pile on three sides, although the cushions had all been pilfered to line the ‘den’. Angela had shaken her head at the sight of the long-limbed vampire letting herself be mobbed on the eiderdown ‘floor’, and snagged up one of the boys for herself. Tonight, all of them would curl up amid the eiderdowns and pillows, and sleep in one big tangle for a change. Mateo’s occasional nightmares never seemed to bother him on ‘puppy pile’ nights as Chrissy called them.
Behind Angela, Caleb giggled as he threw a handful of snow in Mateo’s direction and reached for another handful. Diamond-like grains glittered in the pale winter sun as they scattered.
A green blur whipped past the steps and swept him up, swinging him into the air. Chrissy, her long hair unbound and coiling into curls, lifted Caleb over her head and spun around with him. Two spots of high colour stained her cheeks from the cold. Caleb shook his head deliberately and beamed when more melting snow tipped from his hair into Chrissy’s.
She swung him down and tucked him under her chin, cuddling him close and cooing to him. “Ah, medvídě, it’s good fun, yes? You see!”
Angela listened curiously. It wasn’t English or French, so it was most likely Czech. An odd choice, to be sure, but Angela vaguely recalled that Chrissy’s mentor had been Czech. She’d told Angela once, after a bottle and a half of wine settled warmly in their stomachs while they curled up on the sofa, that it meant ‘little bear’, like all her nicknames for him.
It was appropriate: Caleb had the most terrible morning temper. He managed to be worse than Mateo, who had sweetened over time. Angela thought it might even have been worse than a hung-over Paul’s—but there was another one of those thoughts that always led somewhere Angela didn’t want to go, even though the pain had almost leached away by now.
Little bear. She wondered what his father would think of that and then dropped the idea like a piece of carrion.
“Yes, there will be lots more snow tomorrow, medvídě,” Chrissy trilled. He had his arms around her neck as he snuggled in, enraptured. “Lots more snow for medvídě to play in.”
Before Caleb was born, Chrissy had taken to calling Mateo ‘PB’, or just ‘Peanut’. ‘From PB&J’, she’d told him. ‘Because you’re sweet but a bit nutty.’
Mateo protested the jelly, but he didn’t mind being called Peanut. So content he was, Angela’s little Summer Baby. Looking down at her him, she teased off a piece of ice clinging to his hair and showed it to him. He took it immediately, turning it over and over in his hands.
Snow. Angela loved snow. It was just water, and yet it had such power. It washed everything so clean, covered up all the ugly scars of the months before.
At the top of the front steps, Chrissy danced one last circle, Caleb flinging his arms out with a peal of laughter. It was almost time to retreat indoors; the cold temporarily driven off by the day was creeping back. Angela’s breath was silver in the sunlight. She puffed out one more breath just to see it.
“Time for cocoa and bathtime, I think,” Angela confided in her eldest.
He knew they were having a puppy-pile night; he grinned and nodded so energetically she half-expected his head to fall off.
Angela chuckled at the undiluted enthusiasm and carried him clear of the snow to the steps. “Go on and get the tub ready.”
He was up the stairs and gone almost before she’d finished speaking. Obedient to training, he carefully kicked off his snowy boots in the entryway and hung his damp jacket on a peg – jumping a few times to reach it – before streaking down the hallway. Angela had a brief flash of Seth sprinting to get the last burger.
Unlike the flash of Paul, this memory carried only amusement. Pulling a tiredly humoured face at her offspring’s boundless energy, Angela followed him inside. She still didn't know if either boy had inherited their father's shapeshifting. Time would tell. In the meantime, they were simply her children and hers alone. No pack would interfere with this.
She stomped snow off her own boots and wriggled them off beside his haphazardly stored ones and Caleb’s tiny ones. Chrissy’s neat Sorrels were completely dry. A trail of wet footprints led down the hall runner and around the corner.
Angela supposed eventually she’d have to talk to the hybrid about putting unhealthy notions of invincibility into the boys’ heads. She sometimes wondered about the extent of the physical change in Chrissy. The hybrid mentioned it now and again, explained a thing or two as they took her fancy, but Angela had never asked.
Changes in Chrissy likely paralleled those in Jake’s ‘imprint’—and Angela didn’t need to know the lengths by which the competition had outstripped her. She’d need another half-bottle of wine and a rock-steady languor to dredge up the masochistic curiosity.
She could hear the fire popping as it found pockets of snowmelt inside the bark on the firelogs. Even in the hallway, the warm scents of cocoa, dried lavender from the bedding den, and wood-smoke were pleasantly heavy. The sweet smell of cedar still drifted from wall panels not yet old enough to have lost their memory.
Angela draped her scarf and jacket over the rack by the door to dry. In a few weeks, she would think about clearing a path from the barn to the road and making a trek to town for supplies, but until then her little clan was comfortable enough. That was for Later.
Now was time to grab Hans Christian Anderson from the boys’ room (a favourite for the frequency of people turning into animals), splash water at her eldest, stage a waterfight with her housemate, and then flop down in the boys’ den and soak up the fire.
The sounds of sloshing water and half-amused half-outraged squeals spilled from the bathroom to greet her. Smiling to herself, Angela kicked the door closed behind her and padded towards the sounds in her socks.
Outside, a light snow began to fall.