As Ross softly closed his own front door behind him, he heard the mantel clock strike twelve. The click as he turned the safety lock home seemed to echo in the still front hallway. He then eased himself down onto a wooden, straight-back chair on the wall just inside the door. Asigh of relief escaped from his mouth as he slowly unlaced his new, stiff, dress shoes. Leaning back in the chair, he wiggled his toes and smiled happily as he stretched out his wounded leg.
In his socked feet, Ross slowly stole up the old wooden stairs, remaining close to the wall to avoid the creaky sections. In his bedroom, he removed his clothes, piece by piece and carefully draped them over the chair next to his dresser. Moving silently to the bed, he gently pulled down the covers and slipped underneath them. His wife did not completely wake up, but she did turn and, as he stretched out his arm, she snuggled over beside him and threw one arm across his chest. He smiled, gently kissed her on the forehead, and with her head on his shoulder, he was soon fast asleep.
Ross had never been one to sleep late and at 6 AM the next day, with rain pelting down on the roof, he woke, showered, shaved and got ready for his first day of chasing a will-of-the-wisp quarry.
Retracing his stealthy steps downstairs along the wall, he successfully avoided waking up his four-year-old daughter. He silently opened the front door, picked up the newspaper that was, surprisingly enough, on the steps right outside the door. Normally he would have to walk over onto the lawn, or pull the paper out of the shrubbery beside the door. This was a good omen, he decided. I should start every day this way and I must congratulate that young man on getting it right three days this week.
Reentering the house, he walked to the bright, yellow-painted kitchen where his wife had the tea kettle just starting to boil and whistle. He smiled broadly when she turned to him with her arms open for a good morning hug. He kissed her on the forehead and, in reply to her raised eyebrow, he said, “Yes. I’ll get breakfast down by the station as usual.”
She nodded, knowing this was his preferred ritual. Eating breakfast with his army mates was a good way to balance his reduced status of being a junior security officer in MI5.
He recognized the rubbing sound of small pyjama-clad feet coming down the wooden stairs. If this morning were like every other morning, he was about to receive the blessing that would balance his day in another way. And sure enough, ten seconds later a small voice excitedly said, “Daddy!” And a four-year-old whirlwind in a pink onesie dashed across the kitchen.
Ross put his tea cup carefully on the table and turned to meet the charge. He knelt down and as the bundle of energy hit him for her good morning hug, wrapped his arms around her, pulled her to his chest and rocked down carefully onto his back. He rocked back and forth a few times squeezing and tickling her, much to the enjoyment of the three of them. And then he rocked back upright, got his feet underneath him and stood with the giggling, squirming young girl with her arms still locked about his neck.
Drawing his head back to look directly into her eyes, he asked, “So, Ms Alexandra, what did you do yesterday?”
As the excited four-year-old began a litany of the things she had done, and the things she imagined that she had done or pretended to have done with the fairies, he smiled and nodded his head in encouragement. Out of the corner of his eye, and out of sight of their daughter, he watched as his wife rolled her eyes in mock disbelief when her daughter outlined how she had caught a bad fairy sneaking into the house, how she had arrested it just like her daddy would do and banished it to never again appear.
A sense of unease crept into his mind. He leaned his head back so he could focus on her face. “Where did you hear about bad fairies?” he asked.
“Mommy watched it on the telly,” said Alexandra.
He looked at his wife, and she nodded. “There was a news item with a short video of an old man pulling a piece of wood out of Victory’s mainmast,” she said.
Had he been the swearing kind of man, the words would have erupted at that point. All he said was “You saw of a picture of somebody with a piece of wood on Victory?”
“Yes,” said his wife. “The announcer said it had to be some kind of magic trick.” She looked at him, and then continued, “That’s where she got the idea of fairies and arresting them, because I said that you were probably looking for that old man right now.” Her eyebrow raised and in the tone of voice used by parents to explain things, said, “And you know if something is magic, it’s got to be a fairy.”
He nodded and a sinking feeling of things about to go from bad to worse curdled his empty stomach. “Whoever released that video is probably going to be in some serious trouble. I can guarantee Security is already searching for him and he’ll wish he hadn’t shared it by tonight,” he said.
“Is it real? I assumed it was some kind of video stunt, or a magic trick of some kind,” she said.
“No, it’s real enough,” he said shaking his head. “And it looks like I’m part of the team on this one. I’m not sure where it’s going to go but we’re tracking him and trying to get a handle on who and what he is and how he managed to do that on Victory.”
“Overtime?” she asked.
“Probably, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know,” he said. “Do we have anything on?”
“Not that you can’t miss,” she said. “And we can use the extra money now that one over there is about to start school. She’ll need some new clothes and you know how expensive that can be.”
“Okay, then, I’ll agree to anything they ask – not that I had a choice anyway. I’ll keep you in the loop,” he said.
Banishing his concerns to deal with their realities later, Ross turned to his daughter, knelt down on the floor, and asked “Got any hugs in there?”
The young girl recognized this part of the morning routine. She very slowly closed her book, turned her head to look at her father, then wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth. Her bright, enthusiastic, smile drove straight into his heart and she said, “I just made one. Would you like it, daddy?”
Ross opened his arms and the young bundle of energy shot off the chair, took three steps and wrapped her arms around his neck squeezing as hard as she could.
“That’s my girl,” he said. His eyes sparkled with laughter and delight.
After his daughter’s hug, Ross stood, looked down at his daughter and said “I’m going to share some of that with your mommy, okay?”
His daughter looked like she was thinking about that, she raised one eyebrow and put her index finger up against her chin. Then she nodded and a huge grin broke out over her face. “Mommy likes hugs, too.”
Smiling, he turned to his wife, gave her a big hug and whispered in her ear “Love you babe, and I’ll keep you up-to-date on what my schedule is likely to be.”
She returned the kiss and said, “Jamie, you take care of yourself on this. I don’t like the feeling of it all.”
He stole another kiss, smiled down at her but then backed up to examine her face more closely and nodded. “I’ll do my best,” he said.
Ross turned, walked down the hall and just before opening the door, took a quick peek back to see the two of them standing in the doorway. Given it was his usual routine, he blew them both a kiss, then opened, walked through the door and gently closed it behind him.
He took a deep breath, held it for two seconds and then released it, allowing the relaxation to fill his body. He knew the video likely meant more surprises were coming his way today. And he would indeed take care of himself he decided. He would indeed.