Characters: Harry, Bob, Graylin (OC), Dylan (OC), Katrina, (OC)
Word count: Approx. 2300
Summary: Harry receives a visit from a pint-sized former client.
Author's notes: A bit of fluffiness written for the 'tall' prompt on my occhallenge table. Graylin and Dylan both appear in a previous story, Child's Play and this story probably won't make much sense if you haven't read that one.
I stared hopelessly at the dirty dishes in my sink and made a quick decision. I ran and got an empty laundry basket, filled it with the dishes and stuck it in the closet. That was going to have to do for now.
The living room looked pretty much like it always did, but I'd managed to at least make it look like it wasn't a bio-hazard. I'd thrown what I didn't have time to thoroughly clean up into the loft where nobody would want to go. I looked around and decided that it was as good as it was going to get on such short notice. I didn't think my guests would care much, anyway.
The British branch of the Cartwright family had called about half an hour earlier, explaining they were in Chicago visiting the US branch and wondered if they could drop by to see me. I accepted. At least, I was pretty sure that's what I agreed to; the phone connection was messed up like you only get when two wizards try to communicate with each other.
It had been about a year and a half since I'd seen Graylin and Dylan, though I'd received a letter and a Christmas card from them, both of which convinced me that she was doing okay. It wasn't the same as seeing her in person though, and there was a part of me that still doubted that I'd made the right decision in letting her go. Not that I'd had much choice, but I could have made more of a fuss than I did.
I had just decided to throw a blanket over the chair with the acid stain on it when there was a knock at the door.
I could see a young woman with cat's eye glasses through the window and I recalled Dylan showing me a picture of her. Katherine...no, Katrina, his fiancée. I smiled at her and she smiled back, looking a bit nervous. I opened the door and before I could say hello, I was beaten to the punch.
“Hi Harry!” Graylin said. I had to look down to see her and she beamed up at me, twitching a little in her excitement.
“Hey kiddo!” I said. She had lost a little of the baby roundness in her face but at the same time looked less gaunt than the last time I'd seen her. She several inches taller, too. I tried to decide how old she would be now. Seven? Almost seven?
“Hi!” she said again. She gave up twitching and just threw her arms around my waist. “I'm in America!”
“No kidding,” I said, smiling.
“There, Kat, the car is successfully parked, without any accidents or running over of pedestrians,” Dylan Cartwright said, walking up behind Graylin. “She thinks just because she's never driven on this side of the road, I can't drive on this side of the road, despite the fact that I grew up here.”
Katrina rolled her eyes a little at Dylan's teasing, but seemed to accept the fact that what he was saying was true.
“Hey,” Dylan said, by way of greeting me. We shook hands over Graylin's head. She was still attached to my waist. “I hope I understood you right on the phone. The connection was a bit dodgy. It's okay that we're here?”
“Perfectly okay,” I said.
“I was using Kat's cell phone,” he explained. “It think it's good and fried now. We didn't have American coins for the pay phone. And they gave away our rental car to someone else, so we had to get a new one. Which is why we're later than we'd said we'd be.”
“It's okay, I didn't hear when you said you'd be here,” I assured him. “It's good see you. Come in.” I tried to step backward to give them some room, but Graylin still had her face pressed to my stomach and I couldn't move. I reached down and hoisted her onto my hip, a feat that was much harder than when I'd previously done it. She transferred her grip to around my neck as I carried her into the house. “So, how's England?”
“Cool,” she said. “But rainy. Very rainy. I have a pretty brolly and I have to use it a lot. And I have a cat. She's Uncle Dylan's cat, really, but he says she's my cat too, now. And I have a swing set in the back garden and there are gnomes in the flower bed. Not real gnomes, just the fake kind, with red hats and blue jackets. And I'm in school and I have a friend named Imogen and I've been to her house to play and she has a bunny.”
“So...good?” I said.
She nodded, happily. “I like bunnies.” She looked around the apartment a little. “Does Bob still live here?”
Yep,” I said, fighting a smile as I wondered where Bob would go. “Do you want to go see him?”
She nodded and I set her down. She skipped towards the lab and I noticed that a stuffed pink bunny with a heart-shaped nose was sticking out of her backpack. Bob the bunny was alive and well, it seemed.
Dylan and Katrina were still hovering by the door. Katrina continued to look a bit anxious and Dylan looked like he'd just spent umpteen hours on a plane with a seven-year-old and an anxious fiancée.
“Oh hey, I'm Harry by the way,” I said to Katrina, holding out my hand to shake.
She smiled and accepted it with a warm squeeze. “Katrina - Kat, “ she said. She had a thick Yorkshire accent that I will not attempt to transcribe. “I've heard so much about you I feel like we've met already.”
“Uh oh,” I said. She laughed. “Do you guys want some tea or coffee?”
“Coffee would be great,” Dylan said, at the same time Kat said, “I would love some tea.” They argued for a few moments, both insisting that they would accept the other's choice.
“I can do both, I need to boil water for either, “ I said, holding up my hands in a peaceful gesture. “Come all the way in.”
I headed to the kitchen and Dylan followed, pulling Kat by the hand. They were a cute couple. Kat was short and slightly chubby in a becoming way, with dark brown hair in tiny spiral curls and freckles over her nose and cheeks.
“Oh hey,” I said, pointing suddenly at Dylan's left hand. “You got married!”
He looked down at the wedding ring I'd noticed and smiled. “Yeah. A couple of months ago. It was just a small thing. Mom and Jordana came over,” he said.
“He fried all the fairy lights in the church,” Kat shared, with a giggle.
“I told them they should have just used candles,” Dylan defended himself. “I made it all the way through the reception without blowing out the DJ's turntables, though.”
“Nice!” I said and we high-fived.
I put on the kettle and found some mugs, gesturing for Dylan and Kat to take a seat at the table. I had a tin of cookies a nice old lady client had given me and I set them out. Dylan pulled several out right away and was scolded by Kat for being a hog. He put two back and kept three.
Graylin came scurrying out of the lab, clutching Bob's skull in her hands. Bob was doing his very best to avoid being tugged along while at the same time not appearing to be running to keep up. He managed to keep most of his dignity, but looked relieved when they reached the kitchen.
“This is Bob!” Graylin announced to Kat, gesturing. She put his skull on the table.
Kat swallowed and gave a bit of a forced smile. “He's the ghost, right?” she whispered to Dylan. He nodded, patting her hand in reassurance.
“Bob, this is my Aunt Kat,” Graylin said. She pronounced 'aunt' in the British way, not like the insect.
“My pleasure,” Bob said, bowing his head in greeting.
“Um, yes,” Kat said, bravely. She looked about to offer a hand, but seemed to think better of it.”It's nice to meet you. I've heard about you from Graylin. You're British.”
“Technically, yes,” Bob said. “I was born in Bainbridge.”
“Oh! That's near where I was born,” Kat said. I had to give her massive props for her handling of the situation. Not many straights could easily enter into a conversation with a ghost and keep their cool. She probably had more practice with the weird than most. “We live in South Yorkshire, now, though.”
“The accent was a bit different in my day,” Bob said. “The language too, actually.”
“Do you want something to drink, sweetie?” I asked Graylin, as I poured out the water into the mugs.
“Yes please,” she said.
I opened the fridge to see what I had to offer. “Orange juice? Milk? Coke?”
“Hey, you have my picture!” she said, pointing to the drawing of a wizard with a hockey stick and a little girl with a pink bunny that was stuck to the fridge door.
“Of course, it's the best drawing I've ever gotten,” I said.
She selected orange juice from the list and I poured her some. Kat and Bob were chatting about the Yorkshire landscape, then and now, while Dylan ate his cookies like they were the last meal he was going to get.
“May I have a biscuit?” Graylin asked.
It took me a second to realize she meant cookie. I was picturing some sort of small dog treat and for a moment wondered what the hell they were feeding her.
“Go for it,” I said.
We all settled down at the table with our various drinks and snacks, aside from Bob who stood politely to the side.
“I have pictures of England,” Graylin said. “Do you want to see them?”
“You bet,” I said.
She hopped out of her chair and opened the backpack she'd hung on it. Bob the bunny was placed on the table while she rummaged through the bag. Bob the ghost didn't look entirely pleased to see the bunny again. Graylin pulled out a handful of white papers and crawled into my lap to show them off.
“We can't take real pictures,” she explained. “Because Uncle Dylan broke the camera. So I drew you some pictures instead. Do you want to see too, Bob?”
Bob walked around to where he could see.
She laid out the papers in front of us and described each one. This was her house (a square with a triangle on top and some windows), this was her school (a slightly bigger square with a triangle on top and the word 'school' written on it), this was her friend Imogen (a stickish figure with red hair and purple dress, accompanied by a bunny), this was her teacher Miss Reynolds (a stickish figure with brown hair and a purple dress, accompanied by an apple). The last one was of her cat, Strudel, who had been drawn in meticulous detail and looked very much like an actual cat.
I oohed and aahed and made appropriate comments and listened to the descriptions. Bob joined in when prompted. Dylan and Kat looked on with parental affection. I noted how much chattier and outgoing Graylin was. I had seen her at her worst, of course, but she seemed to be very happy with her life and it made me feel happy to see that. I knew how awful it was to lose a parent and, unlike I had, she'd seem to have found a good home with family that cared about her. That's the sort of thing that makes my job worthwhile.
The Cartwrights were there for about an hour, enough time to have a good visit before the conversation became forced. They were expected at Granny Cartwright's place for a late lunch and Dylan had to pry Graylin off my lap when it was time to leave.
“Do you want a picture?” Graylin asked.
“I would love a picture,” I said. “My fridge needs more art. The one picture just looks lonely.”
She gave me the drawing of Strudel and I stuck it on the fridge with a banana shaped magnet. We stood back to admire it for a moment, then she threw her arms around my waist again. She used to come up to my hip, now she was at my belly button.
Dylan and Kat had gone to wait at the door, accompanied by Bob, and a small crash came from that direction.
“Sorry!” Dylan called. “I'll pay for that.”
Graylin giggled. “He breaks everything,” she said.
She took my hand and we went to the door. Kat held her backpack out for her to slip on.
“Bye Harry! Bye Bob!” she said, giving us a wave. “Thanks for letting me eat your biscuits.”
“Thanks for having us,” Dylan added, with a smile.
“Thanks for coming,” I returned.
“It was good to see you again,” Bob said.
There was more hugging and shaking of hands and goodbyes and then they were gone. This time, I didn't feel as bad to see them go.
I finally knew I had made the right choice.