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Winter, Part Four
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The scent of vanilla filled the small kitchen, mingling with the light incense which burned in a clay pot above the stove. Beneath them lay the sharp spiked aroma of cloves, the full, clean scent of oranges and lemons, the warmth of cinnamon and the heavy base of melted butter.
Citrus peels were stacked like pyramids along either side of the windowsill, through which Kim tried to ignore the endless white curtains of the blizzard. Winter had always been cruel to her, even if it had been the winter that first brought her to this new life in Solstice.
For that, she supposed, she should be thankful. Looking at her reflection in the windowpane, she tucked a lock of night-black hair back under the red kerchief and smiled wanly. I have friends, she thought, real friends, not letters on a screen.
And when did you last see them, scolded the voice in her head. The Mixer. Months ago. Some friend you've been.
She couldn't deny it, and she hated herself for it. The long days of winter had brought this on since childhood, making her limbs feel heavier than the stove itself, forcing her to drag herself from bed every morning - the days that she couldn't afford to simply stay in bed, at any rate. Weekends were lost to the couch and the comforter, watching television and snowfall, loathing every moment of the waking hours.
Seasonal depression, they called it. To her it was a cold weight in the heart, a loss of everything that brought her joy. She'd met Kevin in the autumn, and by that January she'd known she had to fly but hadn't had the strength to do it. Years had dragged like chains for her, bound to the grey-hearted, heavy-fisted life as Kim Duffy.
She pushed him from her mind, rubbing angrily at her forehead with a wrist, leaving a streak of white flour beneath the black and red, and turned to the telephone.
"Hi Stephanie, it's Kim."
"Good. Feeling better?"
"I'm glad. Coming out?"
She paused, looking at the kitchen. "I am, soon. Really. That's part of why I'm calling."
"I'm baking. I'm baking way too much for one person and way too much even for the office, you and all the rest."
In her office across town, Sheriff MacIntyre smiled. "Good."
"I just wanted to know ... do you think the shelter would take some of it?"
"Think everyone would. Shelter, hospital, wherever."
"Is there some kind of distribution program?"
"Nope. You'll have to do it."
"Oh ..." she paused, looking at the thin grey sky barely visible through the dancing snowfall. "I thought maybe there was some group I could just give it to."
A heavy sigh came across the line. "Stop it. I'll help. It's better you get out."
"I know, Stephanie, but really, it's just ..."
"It's just the dark," she said brusquely. "Sorry, but that's it. Put on your big girl panties."
Kim laughed hesitantly. "Stephanie, c'mon."
"Not today. Snow's bad. I'll call tomorrow, see where you're at."
Outside, the sky remained dark and cold. Kim forced herself to look at the cheerful yellow and orange skins of the fruits, piled onto the peeling wood of her windowsill. She leaned against the stove, warming her thighs, and sighed.
"Okay. I'll do it, but I'm going to need to buy some baskets or something to carry them in."
"Good. Shop first, lunch, then deliver. Girl's day. Sound good?"
"It sounds good, Stephanie. Thanks for kicking my butt."
Stephanie grunted. "I'll call tomorrow."
"Okay. Have a good night."
The sudden disconnect brought another slight smile to Kim's lips. Stephanie could be so clipped, so distant, really. It was just the way she was, and Kim appreciated it. It gave her a sense that someone, at any rate, knew what was what and wasn't afraid to say it.
Still, the thought of leaving the apartment tied her stomach in knots. Going to work in the mornings was bad enough, but to spend the entire day outside, even in Stephanie's company ...
Stop it, Kim, she told herself. Just stop. It'll be good, and it's what you called her for.
Stephanie returned to her paperwork. Today was reasonably quiet, a nice change of pace given the season. The darkening skies and heavy cold brought out the worst in domestic cases and suicides, though she'd seen few enough of the latter recently - something which gave her hope for Kim as well. Not that she thought of her as suicidal, simply that having her in Solstice seemed to be doing well for the other citizens of the county.
Heather - the last one to hold the position - she'd known who and what she was, just as Stephanie had. The old cow had been stubborn, arrogant and intractable until the day she walked into the snow and froze herself to death, over a year ago. In the final years of her reign the suicide rate had been higher than Stephanie had ever seen, and knowing that Kim was having an effect made her breathe easier.
With the last summons of the afternoon printed and assigned, she picked up the phone and dialed the Mayor's private line.
"Hello, Sheriff. How's your holiday coming?" Long's smooth voice was pleasant as always, wrapping itself around her in the manner she hated, but knew neither of them could control. It was part of him, just as the winter blues were a part of Kim, just as her love of justice was a part of her.
"Fine. Sun's coming out soon. Thought you?d like to know."
"That's good news," he smiled. "It's a little earlier than I expected. Have you or Corbin been working to persuade her?"
"Not me. Don't know about him."
"Probably not, then. I don't think he likes going behind your back where she's concerned."
"So tell me, how do you plan to proceed?"
"She's been baking. Wants to share it out somehow."
"Ah, perfect." Long leaned back in his chair. "Viene la Befana, eh? See that the delivery takes place around sundown, won't you?"
"She won't like it."
"Ah, but the recipients of her goodwill are the important ones right now."
Stephanie scratched her chin, shaking her head. "Don't know. She might break. First year."
"Well, I don't want that," Long continued to smile. "Exactly how many deliveries are we discussing?"
"Plenty, I'd think."
"Where are you planning to take them?"
"Shelter we set up. Hospital, too. Maybe the food bank ..."
"I'll tell you what. Leave one of the deliveries, just one, for around sundown. As long as a bit of the bread comes through in the evening we should be just fine, and we won't worry her so badly. Use my card for the gas and whatever meals you might need, all right?"
"It's always good to talk to you, Sheriff. Have a lovely holiday."
Stephanie hung up with a grunt of agreement, resting her chin on a fist. It bothered her, dancing to this tune. It always had to some extent, even before she knew who and what she'd been, when all she'd known was that justice meant the world to her.
Long was ... useful, no doubt. His patronage had helped her put more than one criminal away, and his fundraising had helped in the re-election campaigns for the past three. He never asked her to do anything unjust, or even illegal. He's got the old crow for that, she snorted to herself.
As time went on, however, more and more of what she did seemed designed to tighten his coils around her, and around the town. Nothing specific, nothing out of the ordinary ... for Solstice, anyway. Enough, though, to keep her thinking about her choices.
Tomorrow would be fair enough, though. No harm in keeping Kim out a little later than she'd like.
In the end ... it'll probably be good for her.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010