Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Four

“That’s okay, Wil,” a scruffy voice said from the hallway. “I’ll get the breakfast.” Wil turned and saw her father, but did not believe she had. Her father was never up so early on a Sunday, never so vocal, and never used her favorite variation of her given name.

“Rob?” Cynthia asked, her tone indicating a similar disbelief. She immediately began coughing and the man who looked and sounded like Rob crossed over to the couch to comfort her.

“You all right, Dad?” Jakob said, talking over their mother. He stood from a paused action of pouring cereal into a bowl.

Wil felt tears form; she blinked at them. “What is going on?” she cried. First, her father was calling her Wil and now Jakob was calling Rob Dad. If the hospital nurse had walked in and announced she, Nurse Bea, was Jakob’s real mother, Wil would not have been surprised.

Cynthia laughed through her coughing, which exacerbated the condition. “Get some water, please, Wil,” Rob instructed.

Wil complied, wiping at her sleeve and sniffling as she went. She filled a large, plastic cup Jakob handed her without comment, and walked to the living room unsteadily.

“Sorry to worry you, Wil,” her father said, once her mother was drinking the water. He sighed. “I’ve been awake for a while. I -” He ran a hand over the stubble of his unshaven face; over his right cheek. “I didn’t sleep much all night. Or the ones before.” Another pause. “I’ve been thinking about things.”

Besides the time she had asked him about whether she could kiss a boy in first grade, and the few moments she was able to get him to tell her favorite story, Wil had never heard such a long, voluntary explanation from her father.

The noise of the utensils drawer opening behind them made her jump. She turned back and watched Jakob open and close the refrigerator next, tread across the floor with milk and bowl, scrape a kitchen chair out, sit heavily upon it, then set his bowl down and pour milk into it. He began stirring his cereal with a *clink* *clink* of spoon against bowl. “Well?” he said, taking a mouthful of Wheaties. After swallowing, his next word was spoken more clearly, “Thinking?”

Wil faced her father again. Rob rose and moved to the nearby armchair. Frowning, he stood and pushed the armchair closer to Cynthia on the couch. He sat again, his face cleared, then he frowned again and rose once more. He looked at the two women he loved most in life and smiled. “I forgot the breakfast.”

Her mother wiped at a few lingering tears from her coughing fit and smiled in return. “That’s okay, Rob.” She and Wil watched him until he moved past the couch. While Rob moved around the kitchen, Cynthia swallowed heavily and drank more from the water. “While he’s getting that, Wil,” she directed at her daughter, “Would you please get my medications?”

Wil nodded, stood, and headed down the short hallway to her parents’ room. She stopped in the doorway and scanned the space for her mother’s bag. Since the last time Wil had been in the room, even more clothing and paperwork had joined the mess across the floor. Her father was the sort to keep things in their place, always looking faint at the sight of Wil’s bedroom compared to his own. Wil viewed the lumpy piles. Perhaps the world really was turning upside-down.

“Wil?” her mother called from the living room. Wil tried to focus. The bag. I need the bag. Searching for it by color would help, she knew. Red, she thought. Red, red, red -ah! She finally located it shoved between her mother’s side of the bed and the nightstand.

“Wil?” called her father’s voice, again using her preferred name. “Need help?”

“Only always,” she heard Jakob respond.

“Jakob!” (her mother.)

Wil stepped back through the detritus of the floor like a ballerina. After reaching the door, she felt safe enough to call back, “No, I got it. I’m coming.” She cradled the medium-sized bag that housed her mother’s small infirmary, and walked down the hall to her waiting family.

 

Continued from Seventy-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Three

“You’re grouchy,” Wil said, ever tactful.

Jakob grunted in response and shuffled over to the gurgling and clunking coffee maker. He stared at it, perhaps encouraging it to succeed with positive thoughts. Wil suspected he was trying to focus and knew the barely-functioning machine would aid that process.

“When’d ya start it?” he growled. He turned a scraggy, bloodshot face to squint at Wil.

“She’s only just,” Cynthia called from the couch. She cleared her throat and swallowed with a deliberate, slow motion. “Why don’t you have some food first, in case it doesn’t pull through this morning?”

Jakob rewarded his mother’s tease with a sigh, with a slight side lift of his mouth. Keeping his eye on Wil, he said, “Depends on if I can eat the food.”

“Uh!” Wil put a hand on her hip. “I’ll have you know that these eggs are perfect!” Just in case, Wil glanced down to check that she’d remembered to turn off the stove beneath their pan.

“Ha!” He turned to stare at the coffee maker again.

Wil decided to not let him off so easily. “Who was it who burned a few grilled cheese sandwiches Friday night? Hmmm?”

Jakob ignored the gibe.

Who will we have to get a smoke alarm for now, Jakob?”

He continued staring, continued to keep his back to Wil.

She edged closer. “You can’t say anything about my cooking anymore, Mister!” Close enough to poke his arm, she did so. “Mister…. Mister Reagan-lover!” More quickly than Wil thought possible with his sluggish actions of earlier, her brother grabbed at her and pulled her into a gentle but firm headlock. “Gah!” she squealed. “Lemme out, Jake!”

“Jakob…,” their mother warned from the couch.

“Don’t worry, Ma, I’m just giving my dear, old, nosy sister a hug.” He squeezed a bit tighter and leaned down to Wil’s ear. “Aren’t I, Minnie?”

“Ugh!” Wil slapped at his arm and side without much effect. “Go brush your teeth!”

Jakob laughed. “Noogie first!” His right hand knuckles dug into the top of her head before his left arm released her at last. “Think I’ll have some cereal; maybe brush later.”

Wil rubbed at the sore spot atop her head as he clunked around the cupboard getting a bowl. “Brothers!”

“If you two are finished bonding,” Cynthia said, “Would you mind bringing me some of those excellent scrambled eggs with a bit of ham and some toast?”

Wil turned to her mother and caught her favorite smile. “Of course, Mom.”

 

Continued from Seventy-Two.
Keep reading to Seventy-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Two

The whole of Saturday and early Sunday morning passed without event, much to Wil’s disappointment. She even managed to alter Sunday’s morning walk with her mother to pass the small playground and the side of Building 5 twice, but they never saw anyone. She knew they walked earlier in the morning than most were awake, but a sliver of hope was all Wil ever needed to assume a sunrise’s worth of chance.

If her mother suspected anything, Cynthia was, as always, respectful enough to keep things to herself. That, or she knew Wil could never keep a secret for long.

“Well,” Cynthia said, after she and Wil had returned home and recovered somewhat on the couch, “That was a nice walk. Thank you, Wil.”

Wil turned to look at her mother from her reclined position. She hadn’t really noticed much of the walk and hoped there hadn’t been some landmark her mother wanted to discuss.

Cynthia cleared her throat, look worried, then smiled at Wil. “Why don’t you get started on breakfast for us, and you can tell me about how things are going?”

“Okay,” Wil agreed, still confused. She rose and walked the few steps to their eating area, her mind on what to talk about. There was the book she had been reading for school, of course; the secret group -oh! She could tell mom about the group; and then Eric, but even she wasn’t sure what there was to tell about Eric…

“Wil,” her mother said, bringing Wil back to reality to see she’d left the fridge door standing open with her in it.

“Sorry,” Wil said, and finished removing the eggs, milk, and bread from the cold interior before closing it. She set the breakfast items on the counter and began the everyday ritual of summoning coffee from their antiquated, secondhand machine. “I. wish. Dad. had. started. this,” she muttered as she prised the used filter from the top and attempted to scrape old coffee from the carafe.

Cynthia laughed, then stopped as she began coughing. “He’ll appreciate waking to it already tamed,” she said, once she caught her breath.

The coughing fit had not lasted long, but it gave Wil enough time to successfully start the coffee maker and get going on scrambled eggs. She and her mother kept the conversation to breakfast preparations, else Wil get lost in another area of the kitchen.

“You like them with salt and pepper, right?” Wil asked.

“Right.”

“How about Dad and Jakob?”

Her mother laughed a bit. “They like food.” She paused, “Though maybe not burned.”

“Ha. ha,” Wil pretended to laugh. She hadn’t burned their meal for nearly a week, although it was true that scrambled eggs had been the last thing she’d overcooked. “That reminds me,” she said, over her shoulder. “I need to tell Jakob I’m not the only one we need a smoke alarm for now.”

Cynthia smiled. “True. But he’s awfully grouchy in the mornings. You might not want to push your luck.”

“Who’s grouchy?” a grumbling voice asked. Jakob stood in his boxers and and t-shirt in the doorway, blinking around.

 

Continued from Seventy-One.
Keep reading to Seventy-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-One

Blinking away a world of sunsets and wings, Wil snuggled her arms free from their blanket cocoon. She groped into an outside coat pocket, searched, and removed her thin, black gloves. The other outside pocket produced a few wood chips, and a remembering blush. The inside pocket held lint and a rather bent novel. She frowned, hoping her teacher wouldn’t be too upset at the state of her loaned material.

Wil reached into her last pocket. This held a crinkling wad of official paper folded over a handwritten letter: her goal. Wil spread them out as best as she could and read them over again.

“Mom,” she said. Her fingers traced the looping flourish of Guinevere Greene’s signature. The title of Mother belonged to Cynthia; there had never been any thought or chance or wish for Wil to believe otherwise. She’d read stories, of course, of children with awful parents who wanted more than anything to be cared for by someone else. Wonderful, loving Cynthia, however, had always been so sweet. If they hadn’t had limitations like health and money, the mother she and Jakob had known for most of their lives might have spoiled them.

As such, they were only ever spoiled with affection.

Once when Wil was quite young, she remembered, she got into Cynthia’s makeup. Staring at her tiny, painted self in the mirror, Wil had realized that her mother was standing right behind her. Arms crossed, face frowned, Cynthia had not been pleased. “Now Wil,” she’d said. “This is my makeup and you need to ask permission.” She’d come forward and sat right next to poor, apologetic Wil. “Now,” she’d added, “Let me show you how grown-up women put on their lipstick.”

Wil’s lips pursed forward, remembering the way she and her mother -the mother she’d always known- had made kissing faces at the mirror after painting their lips. Anytime she’d wanted to after that, Wil had joined Cynthia at the mirror to get made up for the day.

Wil stared down at the cursive again, trying to picture its author. Was Guinevere the sort of mother who smiled with love when her daughter blurted out whatever came to mind? Did her laugh or smile light up a room? Would she have asked Wil about her day, every day? Would she have shown Wil how to put on makeup from her own supply?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Wil had no experience with how a real mom might be. If anything, her reading had taught her to fear a stepmother, but Cynthia was nothing like the cruel stepmothers that stalked the pages of fantasy stories. Given that, was Guinevere the evil one?

She had left Wil behind. She had insisted on Rob’s never telling Wil about her.

And yet…

—–

“Whazzinit?” Syl the pixie paige asked, ever the nosy sprite.

Wyl Winterling cast him an imperious glance, her coils of dark hair shifting across her featherlight wings with the movement. “I believe that is none of your business.”

Syl drawled a disappointed, “Awwrr.”

“Still,” Wyl interuppted. “I may tell you that I’ve learned I’m also daughter of The Great Lady of the Greene.”

The effect of her statement was instantaneous. Syl drew breath in, and was blessedly speechless. The Great Lady existed in forgotten ballads and old stories, and was whispered amongst the branches of the magical elder boughs.

“So,” Queen Wyl’s paige squeaked out, “Will she be comin’ for a wee visit soon?”

 

Continued from Seventy.
Keep reading to Seventy-Two.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy

Wil blushed again. She felt caught, knowing she needed to stay but not yet finding her appetite. “Um. May I be excused?” She saw her father raise his eyebrows and her mother’s smile become more amused. “I promise I’ll come back later to finish!” she added in a rush.

Her mother laughed; Rob glanced at his wife. “Sure, Wil.”

Wil pushed away from the table before either changed his mind. Her foot caught at the chair leg and her hip caught at the table’s edge. She recovered enough to make it to the hallway without further incident. As she got to her bedroom, she heard the low rumble of her father’s voice asking a question.

“I really do have homework,” Wil grumbled. Looking around the jumbled confusion of her bedroom, she added, “Maybe some room work.” Accordingly, she threw herself across the unmade bed, cuddled up in the comforter, and rolled onto her back.

—–

The azure sky of autumn breathed sunset hues amongst the dancing wildflowers and wild weeds. Skylarks sang of evening while bullfrogs took up the chorus. Wyl Winterling sighed with pleasure from her downy dandelion nest at the great oak’s base as she watched the painted sky above.

Times had been peaceful, of late. She’d not heard from the Mosquitoes of Swamp Direling since the weather cooled, the summer dryads were too sleepy to cause much mischief, and the more restless forest creatures had left for warmer climes.

Wyl sighed once more. What wasn’t to love about winter?

“Mistress Wyl!”

Perhaps that.

Even a queen of fae folk might want a few minutes without interruption, Wyl thought with a scowl. She nestled farther down inside the white, tickling seed pods. The reds and golds over her shrouded head appeared more pieced and distinct.

“Mistressss Wy-yl!” Her paige’s nasal voice was closer.

She knew the persistent pixie would find her; regal wings had a way of sticking out and the paige had a way of remembering Wyl’s favorite hiding places. He’d only find her hiding funny and she’d hear no end of the buzz among the court for the duration of an otherwise perfect winter.

As Syl, the paige of Queen Wyl Winterling, came round the shadow of the oak, Wyl pushed atop the soft weed top to sit on the seeds like a throne. “Yes, Syl?” she stressed his name in as regal a tone as a being the height of a toadstool could convey.

The pixie, for his part, tried and failed at a serious expression. “Mistress Wyl,” he giggled, frowned, then smirked. “A moste important epistle requires Your Highness’ attention.”

Wyl nearly fell from her perch, were it not for the balance of her ever-ready wings. “Epistle?”

Syl giggled again. “Oh, aye. Seems ’twere from your mam…”

“Mom,” Wil said, remembering. “Guinevere.”

 

Continued from Sixty-Nine.
Keep reading to Seventy-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Nine

Wil shuffled her grilled cheese sandwich in a circle of its own dark crumbs. The action piled even more bread bits on the plate, due to how long Jakob had overcooked it. All of the sandwiches were blacker than the family preferred, but they couldn’t afford to buy another meal in replacement.

“Next time, put your phone down,” Rob had said after finding the small kitchen full of stink and smoke. Wil had just walked in and started coughing in surprise. They all heard Cynthia echo the noise from her bedroom.

“Sorry,” Jakob had provided, thus ending another of their lengthy exchanges.

Wil had then been tasked with brushing the burnt parts into the garbage. She’d only dropped one of the sandwiches in, and had managed to retrieve it before anyone noticed. To be fair, she’d then placed that sandwich on her own plate.

Perhaps that was why she wasn’t interested in eating. Then again, maybe she was worried about her mother and Dr. Sullivan’s recommendations. Or, Wil might be tired after their long day.

Her lack of appetite certainly had nothing to do with a little exchange at the playground a half hour before dinner.

“Oh!” Wil exclaimed into the silence. Her family stared at her, all raised eyebrows and questioning expressions. “Erm… I remembered some homework I had.” She looked down, blushing. Wil couldn’t lie and they all knew it. She took a hasty bite of her sandwich to avoid further questions.

Jakob drained his glass of water and wiped a sleeve across his mouth. “Welp, I do have homework. ‘Night.” He cleared his place settings and rinsed them in the sink before stacking them on the counter. His pace was quicker than Wil usually saw him move as he headed down the hall to his room.

She swallowed her stale food. “He must have a lot to get done,” she observed. Her parents shared a look she didn’t understand, then turned away from each other smiling. “What?”

Her mother’s beautiful, loving eyes met Wil’s confused pair. “Oh, Wil. I love you.”

“Well, I love you, too, but that doesn’t explain why -” Wil’s thinking finally caught up with her speaking. The way Eric had looked at her in the dark had reminded her of something, and that something had been how Jakob had stared after Reagan as they were leaving the hospital. Two and two added to four in Wil’s mind; her brother was going to chat with her older school friend, just as she’d guessed before her hasty departure from the family car.

She saw her parents exchange another amused expression.

“But… that’s not homework, either!” she managed.

Her mother turned to Wil again. “‘Either,’ hmm? So, Wil, what were you lying about?”

 

Continued from Sixty-Eight.
Keep reading to Seventy.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Eight

Wil’s tenacious grip on the slide bar slipped, as did her treadless boots on the platform. With all the grace of a surprised, screeching sloth, she tripped, fell, and slid the length of the metal slide. She landed quite solidly on the frosted wood chips and closed her eyes against the cold night sky. Perhaps, if she squeezed her lids tightly enough, Eric and the world would go away. A portal into another world might open beneath her, or a wizard would appear and –

From a distance, she thought she heard running feet. “God; are you okay?” Eric said from quite close, his concern a tad more evident in his tone than his amusement.

Wil cracked one eye open, then the other. He stood over her. What she could see of his features seemed to resolve into an anxious curiosity. His mouth appeared to twitch at the corners, but she couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting of the apartment complex.

That lighting was never luminous, and tended to turn off at important times. Her mother had said the owners were conserving energy; her father said they wanted to conserve money.

As if on cue, the lamp overhead blinked off. Wil, Eric, and the playground were plunged into darkness. Wil attempted an evasive rolling maneuver to rise, and succeeded in smacking her head against the bottom of the slide. The slide reverberated in the chill, empty air like a gong.

Shit, Wil! What -” Eric began, but broke off at the sound of Wil laughing.

She laughed and laughed. Then she cried. She laughed and cried and didn’t know why. Sitting up, she stopped at the shadowy sight of Eric standing nearby. Did he need something? She attempted to stand, and made it upright with minimal wavering. Bits of dirt and pieces of wood clung to her scarf and backside; she brushed at herself accordingly.

Eric was still there when she finished, within the reach of her arm. She’d never realized how tall he was. “What do you want?” she demanded.

He stepped back. “I, er…” His face moved in the dark, seeking an answer from his feet, the playground, and the sky. Finally settling on his gloved hands, he mumbled, “Nothing, I guess.” She watched his shoulders lift as he sighed. He shuffled his feet.

“Wellllll….” Wil couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t even know Eric; she just rode in his car because his mom had a vehicle everyone could fit in. None of them liked Mrs. Crandall, either; but, Wil realized, that didn’t necessarily mean Eric was anything like her.

The light a few yards down the sidewalk turned on. Her eyes flicked to it, distracted, then back to Eric. She was able to make out more of Eric’s face. He was staring down at her, and he no longer looked amused. In fact, his expression reminded Wil of someone’s she’d seen recently. She felt a light, fluttering feeling somewhere near her stomach.

“Um,” Eric raised a gloved hand and coughed a bit into it. “So -are you okay, Wil?”

She couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from his gaze. She nodded.

“Good.” He did the cough again. “Erm. Great.”

“Miiiinaaa!” came an echoing call from down the walkways. The voice sounded like her father’s, not to mention his use of her second-most detested name.

Wil blinked, the spell broken. “I need to go.”

Eric took a turn nodding. Then he smiled a small, shy, simple smile. He looked nice in a smile, even in the semi-dark. Wil smiled in return, then pivoted and ran to her father’s voice and to their building.

Her scarf fluttered behind her, waving goodbye in the night.

 

Continued from Sixty-Seven.
Keep reading to Sixty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Seven

“Mina!”

Dr. Winters paused mid-rush, a sound catching her attention. Perhaps someone was paging her? She grasped at her lapel and realized she’d left her radio back in the office. “Just a moment, Tanaka,” she told the eager but often nervous undergraduate. She left him and walked a few paces back. Turning, she added, “I’ll meet you at the lab.”

A few paces more, and the brilliant woman had another thought. She pivoted and walked backwards. “Which lab is it again?”

Thomas Tanaka still stood where they’d parted. He morphed a rising bemusement into a thoughtful twist of his mouth. “A-23, Doctor Winters.”

“Mina!”

She glanced ’round the reflective, night-darkened hallway.

“Wil?”

Wil opened her eyes to see her sweet mother’s face peering over the front seat at her. Wil blinked and realized her father’s face also pointed her way. Her mother’s smiled; his sighed and was tired.

“I was awake,” Wil said. She felt stiff as she sat up and looked around the car. “Where’s Jakob?”

Cynthia coughed slightly. “He went inside already, honey. Said he had homework.”

For a reason Wil couldn’t quite recall, she thought to doubt Jakob’s claims. Some encounter at the hospital brushed against her memory. “Reagan,” she remembered.

“What?”

“Jakob’s going to message Reagan,” Wil said, tact and discretion always far from her first impulses.

Her mother choked on a laugh, which set her to coughing. Rob moved over and held his wife from an awkward front seat angle.

“I’m so sorry!” Wil agonized, but was rewarded with a pained expression from her father’s quick glance. Wil’s face crumpled. She pushed at the car door and stumbled out into the eerie mists of winter twilight. Recovering, she ran.

The world was a barren, cold, and heartless place. Mankind had learned to fight against itself and avoid all semblance of connections; embracing only empty, selfish pursuits. Nina Win knew this, yet also knew that there was no other world for her. She walked on, her army regulation boots stomping so loudly against the frigid cement walkways that they sounded from the many desolate buildings nearby.

A twisting, bulky shape rose before her. A playground. Why not? the ex-Marine thought. She clumped over abandoned, frost-crusted wood pieces and up a slippery plastic play slide. There at the top she viewed the crumbling housing complex. Families had lived here once, she knew. Children had played where she stood; happy children. Had the physical equipment she gripped in her creaking gloves not been present, Nina would never have believed those facts.

So intent was she upon her gloomy musings that she failed to remember her training to be vigilant. A dark movement shifted just under her left arm and began moving toward her. Despite rigid protocol to the contrary, she almost screamed.

The darkness resolved to a human shape. He stopped just beneath her vigil.

“Hi,” said Eric Crandall, the shy boy from apartment 5-3.

 

Continued from Sixty-Six.
Keep reading to Sixty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Six

Wil began thinking up plans in her head for what else tomorrow might hold. Perhaps, once they were all awake, she could get Jakob to let her play his game with him. Maybe her father would take her practice-driving in the nearby church parking lot. Or she and her mother could…

Dr. Winters studied her screen of notes and frowned. The panning list of backlit research reflected in her serious glasses as she read. Despite copious notes and equations, she and her team had yet to produce a working sample of their proposed formula.

The door of her office opened with a snap. It almost upset her cup of coffee, perched atop the sprawling file cabinet and untouched since she’d made it hours earlier. “Dr. Winters!” the harried undergraduate student who’d just entered said. “Reagan thinks she may have found the error!”

The head of the department continued her scrolling. Her heart had felt to skip a beat upon Tanaka’s entry, but settled under her usual, cool control.

“Doctor?” Thomas Tanaka closed the door more quietly than he’d opened it, and waited.

“So…” Dr. Winters said after a half-minute. “Reagan has found the error?”

“Yes, she-”

Rose Reagan?”

“Well, yeah; the only Reagan on the team…”

His superior looked up. She had a face that could make a lab monkey decide to stop flinging feces and even consider teaching itself sign language. “I see.”

Her subordinate gulped. “Do you… do you want to verify?” Concerned at the icy response, he began speaking more rapidly. “We weren’t sure, either, as she’s not prone to successful tests in general, but were able to produce a solution with her conclusions and tested it on Subject A this morning and many of his symptoms have not been recorded since -”

Dr. Winters gasped. “What?!”

Thomas swallowed again. “I said she’s not prone to success-”

No, no. After that.” She sounded different; excited. “The bit about Subject A.”

He backed up a step at her intensity; he felt the door handle behind his back. “I said that Subject A has not had many of his usual symptoms since this morning.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Dr. Winters asked. She walked forward and would have pulled at the handle through him if he’d not had the instinct to open it and scuttle out of her way and into the hall. “This is revolutionary!” she continued, taking off at a brisk pace with a breathless Thomas just behind. “Let’s study Reagan’s results and get started in replicating them for a test run on Subject B. Then, if successful, we’ll be able to present to the board and possibly begin human trials before the end of the year!”

Together, they stalked down the fluorescent-lit hallway.

Thomas began to lose some nervousness in the wake of his superior’s growing excitement. “Yes!” he agreed. “When I first read over our results, we were all really happy. Reagan said, ‘We’ve done it! We’ve finally cured Cystic Fibrosis!'”

Eyes closed, Wil smiled; as they pulled into the covered parking space of their silent and sleeping apartment complex.

 

Continued from Sixty-Five.
Keep reading to Sixty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Five

A very somber Winters family walked down the wide hall to the hospital exit, intent on the bleak and cold parking garage beyond. Wil was so absorbed by her thoughts that she bumped right into someone in passing the main reception desk.

“Watch it-!” an angry girl’s voice began, then stopped. Wil stopped as well, her mind slowly catching up with her ears and eyes. “Oh, hey, Wil!” the injured girl said. “Long time no see!”

Wil blinked. It was Reagan. Not sure whether she should acknowledge their friendship or not, Wil decided on copying Reagan’s casual tone. “Hi… um… Reagan. Nice to see you, too.”

Reagan laughed outright. “Yeah.” She could barely suppress a wry smile. “Well, guess I’ll see you at carpool!” And she left, more laughter echoing behind her.

Shaking her head, Wil began walking to the exit once more. She stumbled into her stepbrother this time. “Watch it, Wil,” he grumbled. Surprised at the lack of insult, she glanced up to his face. Jakob was not looking down. He was staring off in the direction of Wil’s carpool companion, his expression one that Wil could not remember seeing before.

Reagan rounded the corner out of sight, and Jakob returned to the present to find Wil staring at him. “Real smooth, Wheels,” he said, shortening his favorite nickname for her due to their parents’ proximity. He slouched out the sliding doors.

“Wil.” She looked to see her mother smiling in an encouraging way. Cynthia held out a welcoming hand. Wil clumped forward to take it and relished the soft, loving, comfortable connection. Her father led her mother led Wil behind her sullen stepbrother and out into the dark winter evening.

Ice cloud crystals hung for seconds before their warm exhalations as they walked. The harsh, cold air cut through their coats and scarves and filled their lungs with frigid breaths. Cynthia began coughing with the strain; they huddled round her and moved more quickly to the car.

Jakob was waiting, leaning against the rusted blue hood of the car. Once Rob unlocked it, Jakob opened Wil’s door for her and half-bowed. Not to be outdone, Wil curtsied. She wobbled to a stand. Jakob pretended to shut the door, so she climbed inside.

Rob turned the key in the ignition and was rewarded with a low *chhh-chhhh-chhhhk*. He tried again, to no result. The third time, he offered it some verbal support. The fourth time, he remembered to give the old sedan encouragement from the gas pedal. At last, it clunked to life. They all relaxed to a shivering relief as the air slowly warmed up.

Rob put the car into reverse. He backed out, straightened, and headed for home. Cynthia turned to smile warmly at Jakob and Wil in the backseat.

“What do you say we all sleep in tomorrow?”

Wil thought that was a great idea.

 

Continued from Sixty-Four.
Keep reading to Sixty-Six.