Sunrise was an acquired taste. A bitter wash of gray on the horizon, scrubbing away the heavy night sky. A light brush of pink, and purple, and yellow, sweet almost to the point of cloying after the weight of the scouring that came before. A following brightness, fading through the last of the stars. Light that sept gently into blood and bone and breath, bright as mint. All of it drawn out, one insistent moment after another, to make it palatable.
Brance blinked into the growing light. He yawned. His tongue felt thick in his mouth, and his shoulders ached dully. Every thought was slow and flighty as a breeze, and constantly interrupted by the notion that shutting his eyes would be very comfortable. Laying down would be pleasant as well, but not necessary. He could sleep just where he was. And yet, after drinking in too many dawns, one more was hard to turn down.
The house was lively when Jene came up the street. Every window was lit, and all the doors were open, as if they were eager to throw out the heat for a little more elbow room. Music hummed from the back wall, and conversation rolled through the house like a summer storm, laughter striking in the patterns of thunder and lightning. Everything inside was a happy dash and scramble, and no one noticed Jene for a long moment after he stepped through the front door.
Then: “Jene!” And Fayet pushed her way across the main room to hug him tight. “You’re home!”
Sam and Robert watched attentively as Haley and Grant leaned together to talk over the party noise. The music’s volume was just teetering on the edge between being heard and felt, while close to eighty people milled elbow-to-ribs between the fold-up tables with their lines of food bowls and the haphazard placement of padded chairs and couches. The potted plants that usually decorated the room were still there, filling in some of the corners where Sam and Robert might otherwise retreated to, now decorated with colored plastic cups and the odd used fork. No one had bothered to turn down the lights, and it made the room feel tighter and messier, with all the chaos glaring in clear view.
“They are planning an escape, right?” Sam asked Robert.
Robert shrugged and shook his head, both without looking at her. It was a miracle that he’d heard Sam. He had no way of knowing what Haley and Grant might be saying from all the way across the room.
Tarra paid one of Dene’s nephews three sugar sticks to wait on the forward peaks and watch the horizon for sails. He was an eager little thing, with brown hair grown too long below his ears and eyes that could spot a frog three yards away in the weeds. He grinned at the thought of doing a favor for Dene’s soon-bride, grinned wider when he saw the thick sticks, and ran out the door with one already stuck in his mouth.
The hawks had come in days ago, and Galen’s ship could arrive in port any of the next four days. Tarra herself had lived long enough on a ship’s schedule to know that it was more likely to come in on the fifth than it was the first, but she also knew her brother. Galen was always around at the right times, and today was his birthday. Waking, lying in bed and looking at the sunrise turning her ceiling from ash gray to warm brown, she could believe that he would walk through the front door that day. If he did, she intended the whole street to celebrate with him.
Chaela burst through the back door wearing her best dress. The full red skirt was embroidered with stars and birds, flying thick at the hem and thinning as they moved upward. Her white shirt was tucked in crisply, and a new black sash gleamed at her waist in the low light. Her dark red jacket hung gracefully open, sleeves widening perfectly so that they fell to her fingers in smooth lines. Her dark hair was braided up to the back of her head, then tumbled down around her shoulders in a mix of braids, twists and curls, white flowers and those ribbons that she loved with the metal threads. She was smiling, and that was almost dazzling enough to distract Aaren from everything else.
Because who doesn’t want to join in the reindeer games? ;)
Nobody missed Dancer’s afterparty. Unless they were under ten and were still convinced that Santa knew when they were awake and wouldn’t hit up their house unless they were sleeping.
Mrs. Claus catered – cookies, pies, brownies, hot chocolate, and anything else that her husband hadn’t already found. The elves snuck in gag gifts every year, that inevitably ended up with streamers or confetti or shaving cream all over the house, so I guess they were in charge of decoration. Santa DJed and nobody argued with the big guy if he decided that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” should fade directly into “Love In This Club.” Everybody partied. Everybody who was smart ended up crashing on the couch or the floor or the chandelier. When they left, they were grinning and already planning for next year.
So everybody was shocked when Dancer missed his own party. No one saw him after they got back from the sleigh run, but Dasher caught him slipping into the house at noon the next day.
“Hey man,” Dasher said, blinking against the sunlight coming in through the back window. Lying on the couch, he threw his arm across his face to block out most of the light. “Where have you been?”
The fire alarm screamed, that distinctive screech that gave Sean a headache almost before he heard the sound. Four long screeches in near silence and then he heard his dormmates heading out into the hall. The freshmen on the floor above him started running. Looking up, Sean lazily shut his textbook, slipped his phone in his pocket, fished his ipod out of his desk, slung his jacket over his shoulder and turned for the door.
Smitt had his stereo on one shoulder when he came out of his room. Alex had one of his history textbook bricks tucked against his side, with a highlighter holding his place. Max was already down the hall, running from Woods and Tenker. It was hard to tell if they were laughing at him for his matching flannel pajamas or his bedhead at 10 p.m. No one went to sleep that early. Sean’s RA was banging on the doors, starting at the far end of the hall, driving everyone out.