There was a slow creak, followed by a series of short ones, with that telling silence in between. Angela looked up, pausing her music as a new song started. Carrie came down the stairs and around the corner, her deep frown firmly in place.
“Good morning.” Angela said, joking, in a three-quarters whisper, out of respect for the still (hopefully) sleeping parents.
Carrie gave her a nod, her eyes flicking to the clock on the oven. It was 2:23.
“You want some tea?” Angela asked, sliding off her headphones. Interactions with her sister had grown rarer since Carrie had gone off to college, and Angela treasured them.
Carrie paused, then pulled the fridge open. “Actually.” She said, from deep inside it. “Could you put on a pot of coffee?”
Angela blinked, but she didn’t question. She’d offered, after all. “Sure.”
“I’ve got a friend or two coming.” Carrie said, pulling her head out of the fridge and shutting it, heading to the snacks cabinet just to the right.
“Oh.” Angela said. At two in the morning? The parents would freak. But Angela got up and filled the coffee pot with water. “Isn’t it a bit early?”
Carrie shrugged the question off, but then she said, “Means it’s cold enough to drink coffee.”
“Fair enough.” Angela answered. Day-time temperatures had been hovering over one hundred for weeks, which was just insane. What was this, friggin’ Arizona? Angela stood on the old coffee stain, splattered on the blue linoleum, and reached into the cabinet for the jar of ground coffee.
Carrie closed the snacks cabinet, her face back in its frown. “We’ve got no cream, and no good cookies.”
“Aww, suck dude. Did you want me to bake some?” Angela offered, without thinking.
Carrie shook her head, and for a moment Angela was relived, but then Carrie said, “I’ll just run to the mart.”
“At two in the morning?” Angela just barely remembered to keep her voice down.
Carrie shrugged. “Sure. The gas station store is open, and they sell cream now.” She slipped around Angela and over to the door. There was the jangle of car keys. Carrie’s head poked back around the wall. “If anyone knocks, let them in, okay?”
“Carrie!” Angela called, in desperation, but the front door was already closing. A moment later, she heard the rumble of the truck’s engine in the driveway. “Oh Lord.” Angela muttered. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then finished starting the coffee. Then she went to the front door and turned on the porch light, since they were expecting.
Angela stood in the doorway for a moment, door open, enjoying the cool(ish) air of the early morning. There was still heat coming off the pavement. She shut the door and moved her computer to the little counter between the kitchen and the dining room table. This required moving serious mail, but she made a space.
There was a quiet knock on the door.
Angela felt her heart speed up. The coffee maker was gurgling along happily. She moved quickly across the dining room floor and opened the door, just a enough to stick her head out.
It was a huge man. He loomed on the door step like a misplaced shadow, squinting blearily in the yellow light of the porch bulb.
He blinked small blue eyes at her, blood shot, over his huge beak nose and his huge blond beard. “Carrie here?” He asked, in that desperate voice people used when they are terrified they’ve knocked on the wrong door in a strange neighborhood.
Angela tried a smile. It worked surprisingly well. He was so big, and he looked very much out of place. “She stepped out to get cream, but she should be back in a few minutes. You wanna come in? The coffee’s almost ready.” She heard it hissing from the kitchen.
He cleared his throat uncertainly. It sounded like a semi-engine that wouldn’t start. “Sure. Yeah. Thanks. Um.” He stopped, and shifted his hands inside his hoodie pocket.
It was a black hoodie. Presumably to match his black slacks, and his black backpack. The beard stood out like a tattered flag on his chest. Angela stepped aside and opened the door. “We’ve got to be quiet.” She said, quietly. “The parents are already asleep.”
He nodded, and stepped with overly exaggerated stealth into the entry way. Angela gestured to the kitchen and shut the door behind him as he moved carefully away. She took another deep breath, steadying herself, and moved in after him. Her socks squeaked slightly on the floor. Great, her feet were sweating.
He was standing awkwardly, absorbing light, space, and the sparse cool air swirling in from the windows.
“Go ahead and sit.” Angela said. “What’s your name?” The coffee maker gurgled and splotted, and then gave its dying breath.
“Peter.” Peter cleared his throat again, and took a chair. It was dwarfed in his hand, and dwarfed by his back.
“You want coffee?” Angela asked, slipping over to the coffee maker and pulling down three mugs. “We don’t have cream yet.”
“Oh. I’ll wait, thanks. Umm, are you Winter?”
Angela frowned in confusion, the mugs clicking on the counter. “What? Oh, no, I’m Carrie’s sister Angela.” Winter must have been one of Carrie’s friends. Carrie had told her that up north she’d met a guy named Flying Squirrel. Winter was practically normal, in comparison.
“Oh!” He sounded relieved. “Well, nice to meet you, Angela.”
“Thanks.” Angela said, pouring herself a cup of coffee, against her better judgment. “Nice to meet you too.” She came around and sat down at the head of the table, across the corner from him. She really wanted to get back to her game, but it would be way too rude just to leave him there. “What are you guys up to tonight?” She asked.
“Oh, um.” Peter said. His bloodshot eyes ticked to the clock, and then back to the mug in her hands. “We’re like.” He paused, and looked her in the eyes for a moment. Then, carefully, like he was assembling the words with great caution, “Having a chat about a little spat two of our friends have had.”
“Oh, yeah.” Angela nodded, understanding. If that sort of thing had to happen at two in the morning, that sort of thing had to happen at two in the morning.
Peter’s backpack dinged. “Oh, excuse me.” He said, digging into his backpack. He pulled out a big smart phone and woke it up, then started texting. “It’s Carrie.” He said, after a moment. “She’s trying to decide about cookies.” Peter looked up at her, beard twitching as he smiled, “You care?”
Angela made a face and shook her head. “Just so long as it’s not Twinkies.”
Peter nodded and went back to texting. His phone dinged again, much more quietly. “Oh. Summer’s here.” He said, with a twitch of the mustache. “Would you let him in please?” His fingers were flying rapidly now, almost blurring.
Angela “Hm’kay’ed” and stood up, taking a sip of her coffee.
This time the breeze was down right warm, which was just silly. At the door, looking much more at home in the yellowing light, was a medium sized young man (still older then her) with green eyes and a slightly disconcerting smile.
He immediately stuck out his right hand. Angela took it, out of habit, and got a very firm hand shake, his left hand closing over hers like a trap. “Summer.” He said, by way of introduction.
“I’m Angela, Carrie’s sister.” Angela said, as she withdrew her hand. “Come on in. Carrie stepped out to get cream. Want coffee?”
“I’ll wait, thanks.” He said, stepping past her into the house.
Angela shut the door and heard an expansive “Peter!”
“Shhh.” Peter said, quietly. “Sleeping parents.”
Angela stepped back into the kitchen and shot Peter an appreciative smile. Summer was waving his slender fingers. “Do something about it then!” He whispered, but loudly.
Peter rolled his eyes. “Sit down and be quiet.” He said with gruff affection. “I’m not doing anything until Carrie gets back.”
Summer took the chair across from him, tossed his flip-flopped feet up onto the table and leaned back in the chair. “When’ll that be?”
“She’s leaving the store now.” Peter said, fingers flicking over his phone again. “Three minutes, four.”
It was getting warmer. Angela regretted the hot coffee. She put her mug back down by her seat, but that didn’t help. She got up and started filling a glass with water. “Either of you two want water?” She asked as she plopped ice cubes in. They crackled.
“Yes please. Ice please.” Peter said, looking up and sliding his phone away.
“No thank you, although if you have lemonade…” Summer said.
“Sorry.” Angela said, fetching Peter’s water. “Orange juice?”
Summer made a face.
It was warming up. Ridiculous! The sun wasn’t going to be up for at least another three hours! She set Peter’s water down and sat. Peter was looking at the table. Summer was buzzing quietly to himself and looking around the kitchen.
Angela tried not to feel awkward. It didn’t work. She sipped her coffee.
Then, thank God, the truck rumbled down the street and pulled into the driveway. Angela got up and opened the front door. Carrie lept down from the truck with a bag in her elbow and shut the big green door with a muffled thump. She swept up the steps and gave Angela a smile. “Thanks Angela.” She said, and breezed by. Angela nodded at her sister’s back.
“Carrie!” Summer called enthusiastically.
“Hush!” Carrie replied.
Summer muttered something.
“In good time.” Carrie said. There was the crinkle of plastic. “Cookies?”
Angela stood, looking out into the overly warm morning. It was dark, a gentle dark, resting quietly outside the circle of light. She shook her head at the heat and shut the door. Angela returned to the kitchen. A package of fudge cookies and a package of oatmeal raisin were out on the table, both already open. Carrie was pouring cream into three mugs of coffee.
Peter looked up at Angela and gestured to the cookies welcomingly, so Angela took one and sat down next to her coffee again. Carrie, oddly, didn’t seem to mind, and even smiled at her as she served her friends their coffee. Carrie sat next to Peter, closed her eyes, took a deep breath.
Everyone fell silent. Even the quiet chewing noises stopped.
Carrie opened her eyes, and they seemed more amber then normal. “Alright.” She said. “Go ahead and muffle it, Peter.”
Peter nodded, cookie crumbs falling out of his beard, and reached into his backpack. He pulled out a silver pocket watch, spinning gently on its chain. The case was engraved with an owl’s face on one side and a star on the other. Peter slipped the chain up in his fingers until he was holding the watch, popped the case open and wound the watch with the same care and precision as the watch maker must have used.
It started to tick, oddly loud in the two a.m. silence.
Peter set the watch down on the center of the table, case open. Angela looked. It was a stop-watch, clicking down from an hour.
The three of them were relaxing. Summer took a sip of his coffee.
“Aren’t you going to shout?” Carrie said, in a normal tone of voice. Angela winced.
“Nah.” Summer said, overly loud. “It’s just nice to be able too if I want too.”
“Guys, the parents?” Angela suggested submissively, not wanting to be kicked out.
Carrie shook her head. “It’s okay Ang. The watch stops the noise.”
Angela blinked at her. Well. It was her party. Angela shrugged. “Okay.” She took another sip of her coffee.
Summer leaned back in his chair. “She’s a bit late.” Smugness rose from him like the heat rising from the pavement.
Carrie pulled out her phone and checked it. “Full Moon is bringing her. She said that–” Her phone started to ring. Carrie answered. “Hello?”
The voice on the other end was high, frightened, and going to fast to catch.
“Slow down.” Carrie soothed. “I need you to speak clearly, okay?” Her eyes had widened, she was speaking slowly, calmly. The voice slowed some. Carrie paled, and took a deep breath. She let it out, quietly. “Peter and I will be right over. Just stay calm. We’re coming right now. Okay?”
The other voice said something.
“Alright.” Carrie said, in a voice too calm to be real. “We’re on our way.” She was already standing up. Peter was watching her, clearly confused, but he got up and picked up his back pack.
“Hey!” Summer said, swinging his feet off the table as Carrie hung up. “This arbitration was supposed to take place on neutral ground!”
Carrie gave him a blank look. “That was Full Moon. Winter is dead.”