The entire house looked like a Hallmark Channel special. There was garlands and lights and wreaths and mistletoe and a ten foot tall tree surrounded by boxes and boxes of beautifully wrapped presents. Andrew didn’t realize how big Christmas Eve was at the Thatcher household, atheists that they were. Even Andrew’s parents were impressed.
Harriet told him that they always had big parties Christmas Eve, but by the next morning, it was just her and her parents and Susan, all sitting around the tree drinking hot chocolate and opening presents. Last Christmas hadn’t been much. Harriet and two of her three cousins had to work even on the holiday and Andrew had been left to celebrate alone, at least until Harriet got off work.
Andrew had moved east last year after a large influx of business had given him enough to buy an apartment as well as a shop in Boston and it was all thanks to Patty getting knocked up. When Andrew’s favorite customer’s uncle had learned she was pregnant pre-wedding, he’d paid Andrew a quarter million for the rush-order gown as well as eight bride’s maids dresses and five tailored tuxes. Andrew had even gone as far as to help organize part of the wedding—Well, the décor at least—and Patty had gotten him an invitation. He’d talked to the guests and laughed and talked up his little business until he had a rich older woman so interested she’d told him to show up at her office tomorrow and they would talk. Now Francesca was his investor as well as friend.
It had been almost too much when orders began pouring in from people who read the high-end magazine the wedding had featured front page in. Half the orders weren’t even for dresses, but other articles of clothing. He and Seymour had been so swamped, they’d hired three helpers, all of whom now worked under Seymour at the LA shop. Andrew had his own employees in Boston.
Harriet had been almost obnoxiously supportive. He felt as if she were over-estimating his talents whenever she talked him up to her rich Hampton friends. Andrew kept expecting himself to fail with every call that came in, but so far… So far he hadn’t.
“Andrew?” Harriet asked, putting a gentle hand on his arm. “Are you alright?”
“Hmm? Yeah, just thinking.” Over thinking. He gave her a smile and she grinned back.
His lovely Harriet was a glow in the sparking lights around the room. Her heart shaped face looked beautiful with her golden updo and the warm lights softened her cheek bones. Harriet had a very chiseled face, like a Greek statue, but it had turned softer as of late.
Softer and happier and brighter.
The room was filled with warm chatter from their families and friends and Harriet’s father’s co-workers. Quinn was sitting with a shy girl named Helen in the corner, watching the room with curiosity. Quinn was just an inch from being the same height as Andrew and he wasn’t even quite sixteen. When they’d visited in the spring Harriet nearly had a heart attack. When last they’d seen him, a few months before, Quinn had been to her chin and then POOF, Quin was suddenly taller than her. He was still a spindly little thing, his weight yet to catch up with his height, but he was strong and fast as any boy his age or even older.
It made Andrew happy to see. Little Quinny growing up.
“I think now’s probably the time to do it,” Harriet told him, looking in the direction of her father who was laughing at something Andrew’s father had said. They got along somehow, the doctor and the Christian. “The party will be over soon so we have time to clean up before we got to bed.”
Andrew nodded and took a quaking breath. Harriet smiled and gripped the arm of his fine jacket. “You’ll do fine. I have more to worry about than you.”
“Somehow I doubt that’s true,” Andrew muttered.
Harriet kissed him on the cheek, knocking the glasses he’d taken to wearing again. “Go on Andrew.”
He nodded and fixed his glasses and swallowed twice before grabbing the little serving fork off an empty silver platter and clinking it against his Champaign flute. After a moment or two, people settled down and looked at him. He wasn’t good with speeches or audiences or people looking at him, but Harriet squeezed his arm and he felt suddenly assured.
“I know around this time of year people focus on the traditions and morals collected from those before us,” Andrew almost choked, but he continued. “But it’s also a celebration of life and birth.”
Andrew was acutely aware of Harriet’s father’s gaze. “And so I am pleased to announce that Harriet and I are expecting.”
There was a brief moment of silence, during which Quinn whispered to the girl next to him, “Expecting what?”
But then everyone was gasping and talking excitedly and Andrew and Harriet were suddenly sucked into a whirlpool of congratulations and people reaching out to touch Harriet’s stomach even though her bump wasn’t even noticeable under her mulberry-red dress. People were congratulating Andrew too, all except Em who was whining about not being told. Andrew could barely hear them over the blood rushing through his head. His knees felt week and his chest was constricted by the fear of speaking in front of all those people. Admittedly there was only a dozen or so, but still.
Harriet looked at him through the swarms of female family and friends and smiled. All the anxiety he’d been feeling moments ago disappeared and Andrew smiled back. It had been one of the happiest, scariest moments of his life when Harriet had stepped out of the bathroom a few weeks ago and announced that she had skipped a period. Andrew knew that sometimes that happened with girls or sometimes they were just really late, but the look on Harriet’s face told him something else was afoot. She’d called Jacob and had him bring home a test from the hospital—a high quality test—and then the two men had sat around anxiously as Harriet disappeared back into the bathroom.
When she’d come flying out with that test and bouncing around, Jacob had disappeared and it was just Andrew and Harriet, scared $hitless and excited and entirely unsure of what to do next. Sure Harriet was a doctor and a woman and all that, but when she’d finally climbed off of the ceiling, she’d looked at him and paled. Neither of them knew how to deal with a baby, not really. Andrew had been a kid when Quinn was born and Harriet only had what she’d read in books and seen in classes. Andrew had suggested they call their parents immediately for advice (well, Harriet’s parents. He didn’t particularly feel like getting a lecture from his mother), but Harriet had refused to quickly Andrew had stopped short.
She insisted on waiting until the second trimester, just in case. Andrew told her that everything would be fine, but she threatened to skin him if he told anyone. Even Jacob was sworn to secrecy against Martin and Chris. So far, he had been the most help actually.
Getting Harriet vitamins and assuring them that the half a glass of wine Harriet had had a week before at a work dinner was not going to hurt anything. Jacob had examined her himself the next day at the hospital and Harriet had called to tell him that everything looked fine so far. Andrew didn’t know why she was so nervous about it. Sure they were unmarried and they lived with Harriet’s cousins, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t have money or jobs. They had been dating for three years and they loved each other fiercely. But still, Harriet had wanted to wait.
It was Christmas that broke her actually. She was only ten weeks, not quite at the trimester line, but when they arrived at home and everyone was so happy to see them, Harriet had gone upstairs to her old room and bawled her eyes out and agreed to make the announcement early.
Andrew was happy she had.
“A toast.” Harriet’s father said suddenly, raising his glass. “To my future grandchild. And to Christmas miracles.”
Everyone raised their glasses in turn and echoed back; “To Christmas miracles.”
Andrew awoke suddenly a heartbeat before the phone began to ring. Harriet mumbled softly and turned in her sleep as Andrew lunged for his mobile phone that had fallen onto the floor beside the bed. The green lights behind the buttons were glowing and the ringing was shrill. Something about it filled him with a sense of foreboding.
He pulled up the black antenna and put it up to his ear, glancing at Harriet’s sleeping form. “Hello?”
“Andrew Bapson?” A man’s voice asked.
“Speaking.” He replied. The voice wasn’t familiar at all, but it was very stern and straight-away. Whatever was about to happen, Andrew knew he wasn’t going to like it.
“This is Officer Logan, do you know where Genevieve’s Cliffs are?”
“Yes…” Andrew didn’t know where he was going with this. The Cliffs were about a twenty minute walk from his and Harriet’s rock pile, but they rarely ever went there. It was pretty, but the tale of young Genevieve flinging herself off of it after her lover was killed and she was married off to another was not a pleasant one. It probably wasn’t real, but an earie caul still hung over the place.
“I need you to get down here right now,” The man said. “It’s your brother.”
Harriet didn’t say a word as they barreled down the empty roads in the middle of the nights, flying around corners and running at least two red lights. The officer didn’t say what was happening or why, but Andrew knew that no call that came in the middle of the night about cliffs was ever good. He wasn’t even paying attention to the lines in the road anymore. It had taken him until he was off on a side road away from the city lights to realize his headlights weren’t on. He only turned them on when they almost went into a ditch.
How had such a good day turned so sour? He and Harriet had just spent that morning with Andrew’s family for breakfast, reading various passages from the Bible and other Christmas stories. They’d looked through picture books and Harriet had laughed at the picture of Andrew brushing his teeth as a toddler in nothing but a cowboy hat on top his head.
Quinn had been good, the best he’d been for a while. He’d laughed with them and didn’t speak a million miles an hour and… and just a few hours ago they were having a Christmas Eve party and dinner at the Thatchers. Just a few hours ago Andrew had announced that he was going to have a child. A baby. With Harriet, the woman he loved. Her parents hadn’t even been mad.
How was it fair that a day—a life—could change in such a short span of time? It wasn’t fair.
“Do you want me to drive Andrew?” Harriet asked. She was holding on tightly to the handle above the door. “You’re going to get us both killed.”
He meant to say no, thank you, but instead he told her, “It would only waste time.”
Harriet looked at him and pursed her lips, but didn’t say anything else. She looked out the window toward the ocean as if she could see the Cliffs from the car. The water was impossible to see in the darkness, but the salty smell grew stronger and Andrew could here the waves crashing in the distance. It was almost the same sound as the blood racing through his head. That was all he could see now; bloody waves rolling and falling over one another as they raced up onto the shore, ready to devour them all.
“You’re going to miss the turn.” Harriet said.
He didn’t. He took such a sharp turn to the right that the car felt as if it were riding on only two tires. Maybe he was driving a little fast. Andrew was terrified. He didn’t know what he was going to find or what was going on or how Quinn even got there. He didn’t know how to read a bus schedule and it was too far to walk. Had…had someone gotten him? Taken him? God in heaven, Andrew thought, wanting the comfort of praying. But then his thoughts turned sour. God in heaven, if you hurt my brother, I swear I will find a way to put your immortal *** six feet into the ground.
When they finally, finally got to the parking lot below the Cliffs, Andrew found himself unable to breathe or control his body. There were six cop cars, all in a half circle around the parking lot, their high beams focused on the stairs carved into the rock face. People were all around, talking into mobile phones and walkie-talkies, all of them facing north toward the cliffs. There was an ambulance and a fire truck too, its lights still flashing in circular strobes that turned the white sand and the hills around them an earie red that looked like blood.
Andrew got out of the car, his feet moving without his mind’s consent. He looked up the twenty feet to the top of the cliffs as he moved. It wasn’t the height that made Genevieve’s Cliffs so dangerous—it was what was beneath it. A swirling vortex of water caught between the cliff face and a tall, fat pillar of water that sat fifty feet out, having been carved away from the cliffs thousands of years ago from erosion. The water whipped up and splashed and sucked between the two towering formations and the sharp rocks below that even thirty feet up, you could still get wet from the water splashing up.
“Mr. Bapson?” An officer asked, coming toward him. Andrew didn’t even care to look at the face of the man who had called him awake in the night. He just kept on walking, until the officer put a hand on his shoulder. “We have to ask you to stay back, you might—”
“QUINN!” Andrew screamed, the sound ripping from somewhere deep inside him. He threw off the grip of the officer and began to run, run through the herd of people trying to slow him down, run up the sharply cut steps toward the top. “Quinn!”
When he got there, he saw the silhouettes of his parents standing in the middle of the small plateau with a dozen policemen waiting on the fringes, watching them. His father turned toward him as he came up and Andrew caught his face in the blinking red lights of the fire truck. He had never realized how old his father was until that moment. Andrew was vaguely aware of footsteps coming up the steps and the sound of Harriet’s breathing, but he couldn’t even look at her, couldn’t tear his eyes away.
Past the safety railing, a yard from the sheer drop into the water—was Quinn.
“You have to come down now darling.” His mother was saying.
Andrew walked far, far off to the right of where Quinn was standing and slipped under the dull bronze railing, never taking his eyes off of Quinn. Andrew had never seen him look that way before. He was…calm. Totally calm. His eyes held no wildness, his hands weren’t trembling as they always did, he wasn’t fidgeting on his feet, wasn’t pulling on his eye brows as he did when he was nervous. He looked like he was standing in the middle of his living room, not a foot from death.
“Come down and we can go home and we can make S’mores over the toaster like you boys used to.” His mom’s voice shook with tears, but she was trying so hard to be strong. Andrew crept closer.
“You got mad at us when we did that.” Quinn said, his voice completely normal. No shaking, no word vomit, just normal.
“I know,” His mom’s voice choked up again. “I know and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve and I’m sorry. Please come down and in the morning we can go to Disney Land like you always wanted. I should have taken you before, but we can go now, okay?”
Andrew kept walking, even as he was soaked to the bone with the water splashing up from the abyss below. He walked, slow, slowly, and slower, creeping up to the brother that would be taller than him by winter’s end. He was only fifteen, his birthday not until January 3rd. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that he was only fifteen. It wasn’t fair that he was almost sixteen and hadn’t ever gone to Disney Land when they lived less than an hour away. Andrew had been many times. He’d gone because he’d gotten in the car with his season pass and he would go. With Em, with Harriet, with a friend from school. He’d gone because he could. And Quinn…he couldn’t.
“Maybe we can go to Greece like we always talked about,” His mother was getting more frantic as Quinn took an absentminded step back, just a little shuffle that had Andrew picking up the pace. “We have some money put away, why don’t we use it now. You can take some time off school and we can go and ride donkeys on the beach. Would you like that? Quinny?”
"None of that is important.” Quinn said, smiling. “You always wanted me to find Jesus, Mom. And I have—in here.”
He splayed a hand over his heart. He had such long, boney hands. He needed to eat more. He needed to do more. Greece. That would be nice. They always talked about Greece, about going to find their roots and what not. Maybe they would go, just the four of them. No Em, no Harriet. Just Quinn and Andrew and Mom and Dad.
Their mom let out a broken-hearted laugh. “I know baby. Jesus is in the hearts of everyone.”
“No, don’t you get it?” Quinn pushed on his chest like he was ready to break open his ribs and pull out his still-beating heart. “Can’t you see Christ in your own son? God has chosen me as his own. I am the second coming.”
His mom began to cry in earnest and Andrew took the last few steps, creeping up to Quinn who didn’t even notice he was there.
“Tonight, I will die,” Quinn said, taking another step back toward the cliffs. “And I shall be reborn—there, the vessel that will carry me. Mary reborn, ready to carry out God’s will and bare his son once more.”
He pointed a long, skinny finger at Harriet. Her dark eyes widened, but instead of backing away in fear or looking to Andrew and giving him away, she took a step forward, reaching out a hand. “Yes, but not yet. It’s not time yet. You still have work to do on the earth in this body.”
“God has spoken and he says now,” Quinn said. “He has already planted the shell within your womb, all there is left to do is fill it with my immortal soul.”
He grabbed Quinn and threw them both as hard as he could toward the railing, away from the water’s edge that was calling to his brother. Andrew cracked his head against it as they fell, but he held tight. Quinn was screaming like a demon ripping its way from hell. He bit and fought and thrashed. He was strong. So much stronger than Andrew. He had never realized how strong his brother’s bony body could be. But Andrew had more to lose. As they wrestled, they were pushed away from the railing and back toward the cliffs. He had his life to lose, yes. But he also had Quinn’s life and that loss…that was not acceptable.
“Free me devil!” Quinn screamed, his face a brighter red than the lights flashing off the great rock pillar in the water. “You are ruining His plans! My father will smite you as he did once before when he struck you down O Lucifer son of the morning. He will throw you to the ground and you will live in eternal hell!”
He bellowed the last word with such force, Andrew wondered if his throat was going to tear itself out. He didn’t have to wonder long. Quinn screamed the word and a blink of the eye later, a doctor was upon him, jamming a syringe in the back of his thigh. Quinn’s screams faded away until his blue and brown eyes glossed over and he sagged against Andrew, knocked out.
They pulled him up off Andrew and hauled him away to a gurney where they bound his hands to the sides with cloth restraints. His mother ran to him, sobbing and collapsed at her son’s side. His father came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder, his own shoulders so tense it looked as if he were in a brace.
“Andrew.” A lovely voice whispered and a shadow with Harriet’s face appeared above him in the red lights. Everything was so blurry. “Your hair is getting wet.”
Andrew blinked up at her, his chest heaving, his heart racing.
Yes, his hair was indeed wet, his head dangling over the side of the cliff, his glasses fallen into the vortex below.