Palpatine 10/18/17 09:43 pm Granted, and thank you, Pari, for pointing that out to me, so that I could write to the author and address the issue personally. I'm most grateful. Pari 10/07/17 01:42 am @Palpatine authors are in charge of the banners they add to their stories, so you will need to contact them personally to let them know their banner pic is not showing. Pari 10/07/17 01:41 am @kelticmoon, I added some back but they are not updated, meaning things you find on the default skin may not be on the other skins :) kelticmoon 10/05/17 10:47 pm Where are the other skins that use to be here? Palpatine 10/05/17 03:52 pm Some of the pictures seem to be having real trouble being looked at, they keep on saying "enable third party hosting", a real problem it seems. Pari 09/25/17 10:11 pm Hey nmcil we got this strightened via email, thanks for the donation. Thanks to all who donated as we are now paid up through/to Jan 2019! nmcil 09/21/17 03:08 am How can we contribute using PayPal? nmcil 09/21/17 03:05 am What happen to the PayPal donation. I USE PayPal. squawks 05/18/17 09:16 am pj! I remember wishing one of your stories would be finished seriously about a decade ago. Amazing. I just tried an old password I used to use and amazingly got in too. Memories! pj 03/20/17 06:20 am 10 yrs later, i finally rem my username and password. Pari, you rock. Hope you are well.
This story is set in Pittsburgh and all the places referenced are real. This story has supernatural elements--you guys are smart enough to figure out the entire story if I give you any more clues than that. Just know, it's going to get weird.
New Year’s Eve should not smell like springtime, not in Pittsburgh. The promising scent of wet earth was filling his lungs instead of the cold sting of winter. A respite like that could only be bad for the trees, Spike thought.
Spike didn’t even bother to button his black, leather coat after he and Tara stepped out of the restaurant; there was no need. He did tug on the gray, fingerless gloves Tara had made him for Christmas, but only to show her how much he liked them.
She smiled at him, her big, green eyes wrinkling sweetly. Tara always had the most satisfied of smiles, like she’d just finished eating a delicious meal. Tara smiled like she believed everything was going to be alright, always. Spike liked to let her think he was irritated with her optimism, but truthfully, he thought Tara was always a comforting presence even when she had no right to be.
They were the only two left in their family; their father died when they were infants, their mother passed the year before. It was their first Christmas without her, their first Christmas away from London. The holidays had been harrowing that year, but Tara did her best to make it nice for them.
She’d barged into his apartment and put up holiday decorations. She’d forced him to come gift shopping and to bake cookies for the neighbors. Spike had even worn a Santa hat when they went to happy hour with her daft Wiccan buddies. He was the big brother and Spike believed that sometimes being a man meant allowing his younger sister to treat him like a little boy.
Now the miserable festivities were finally coming to an end and he could go back to ignoring Tara’s attempts to mother him. That meant he didn’t have to go pretend he gave a buggery fuck about the expiration of the old year or the one being repackaged as new.
Tara wound her long, purple scarf around her neck and they walked toward her car, their boots making a sloppy clatter on the wet sidewalk. The fairy lights in all the shop windows were lit, reflecting on the damp sheen of the pavement to make it look like they were trampling over a field of stars. Tara grabbed him around the waist and he let his arm fall around her shoulders, being careful not to tug at her drape of long, white hair.
In their family, everybody’s hair went silver by the time they turned seventeen. Tara had fought it for years with various shades of dye before finally embracing the McClay family curse; Spike had relished his blanched curls from the start because he never got carded. The hair was the only thing that tied the two of them together in the way of looks.
Tara was all soft angles, round cheeks and chin with a womanly figure once described admiringly as zaftig. Spike’s face was as sharp as his name with severe cheekbones and small, perceptive , blue eyes. While Tara’s gaze was sympathetic, Spike’s had the power to make the person being scrutinized feel flayed open.
Spike was a boxer and he was constantly honing his naturally lean body into a more effective weapon. He was a head taller than Tara, but average height for a man, around five-foot-nine. In a bar fight the height tended to fool people. Dressed, all an opponent would see was his long, tapered neck, the slimness, the size. Depending on how they scored on the Kinsey scale, they might notice the gentle line of his cupid’s bow lips. In a winter coat, Spike didn’t look like what he was; a man conditioned for violence. When he stripped down to his trunks he looked intimidating, mesmerizing even; brutal but still elegant, like the burnished edge of a scalpel.
There was one other physical similarity linking Spike with his sister, but it hadn’t come by them naturally—they had matching tattoos.
That had been a bonding thing Tara had suggested after their mother died, to reaffirm their family ties. They had twin images on their right shoulders, two black ravens that sat face to face, their feathers abstract whorls. Their beaks touched and from a distance they formed a heart. Tara had created the design based on some wacky Norse mythology Wiccan hocus pocus. Apparently they were called Huginn, which meant thought and Muninn, signifying memory. Spike usually forgot the names and made something up when he was inevitably asked about the tattoo.
That was another difference between them; Tara was sacred while Spike was profane.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come to the party, Billy?” Tara asked. She was the only person who still called him Billy now that their mother was gone. Everybody else used his nickname.
“I’ll just cramp your style, love,” Spike said.
“S,s, style? Penny is the only person there I’ll know,” she said.
“Then I’m definitely not going to muck up your chances of getting cozy with her,” Spike said with a grin.
Tara swatted his stomach lightly.
“S,s,she’s got a boyfriend, s,s,o there will be no getting c,c,cozy,” Tara said.
Spike thought Tara’s stutter was probably the impetus for his career as a fighter. The kids at school had made his sister a figure of ridicule because she couldn’t speak properly. Spike couldn’t have that; he’d settled the matter with his fists until the student body was cowed when the McClays walked down the hall.
They were only a ten months apart, Spike and Tara, Irish twins his Aunt Jenny used to say. They were uncommonly close for siblings. In third year he got held back on purpose just to make sure he could protect his sister and they’d been inseparable. When Tara had gotten into the graduate robotics program at Carnegie Melon, he’d moved to the States to be near her.
He liked to say she got all the brains and he the looks; this was not entirely true. Spike was smarter than he realized but not half so pretty as he thought he was; Tara would have been a knockout by any stretch of the imagination and more people would have noticed had she only been able to meet their eyes.
Tara had lost her impediment after years of working with a speech therapist, only to have it creep back into her voice after their mother got sick. Spike hated to hear it, hated to think she was seeing herself as that scared girl again, so he squeezed her tighter as they wended their way through the crowded sidewalk.
“You’ll see, love, this is going to be your year. You’ll be tossing her knickers out the car window by half past ten,” Spike said.
“Oh dear,” Tara said. She blushed so deeply he could see her skin shade in the thin fairy light.
Spike kissed her forehead and then Tara got into her tiny car. He watched her slowly pull away from the curb. She was so proud of her driver’s license; Tara had gotten it first thing when they moved. Spike hadn’t gotten one yet; his legal status in the U.S. was still a bit tenuous. He worked under the table at the gym where he trained and got paid cash to fight. Tara didn’t know the half of it, but she was bright enough to be suspicious anyway.
She honked at him and waved as she merged into the traffic. Spike’s place was only a few blocks away. He tugged off the gloves, stuffed them into his pocket and walked home.
Spike ran into Mrs. Plissey, his neighbor from across the hall, about a block away from his place. She was trying to carry two paper bags stuffed with groceries from the bus stop to her third floor walk-up. Spike saw her shuffling along the sidewalk, her fat, rainbow-quilted purse smacking against her black and white hounds tooth coat with each labored step.
“Mrs. Plissey, let me help you, love,” Spike said.
He ran up next to her and plucked the bundles from her arms, hefting them as though they were filled with nothing more than inflated balloons. Mrs. Plissey smiled, an expression that sent ripples all the way to the stems of her gold-rimmed spectacles. She was a tiny lady, compressed with age, the exact shape and shade of a Hershey Kiss. The elderly woman tapped at her iron-colored pin curls with her neat, plump hands.
“Thank you, Spike. I thought that last trip to the Shop-N-Save was going to be the death of me,” Mrs. Plissey said.
“You should have called me, Tara could have driven you,” he said.
“I don’t want to be a burden on anybody. Besides, your sister is such an angel already, helping me with my baking and all,” she said.
“What about me, don’t I get any credit for delivering those sodding fruit cakes?” Spike asked, affecting an affronted look. She smiled up at him.
“You? I think you’ve got a bit of the devil in you,” she said.
“Flirt,” Spike said, with a grin.
Mrs. Plissey giggled.
They continued on toward the apartment building until they got to the front steps. Pretty much everything in Pittsburgh was built on a hill and this spot was no exception. It was similar to a lot of the structures in Bloomfield; a touch neglected, but made all the more beautiful for the slight disrepair. It was like a gorgeous woman in torn fishnets and running makeup, Spike thought. The distress made her more interesting.
Mrs. Plissey leaned on Spike’s shoulder and the wrought iron railing to make it up the stairs.
The front of the building was covered in white, ceramic tile embedded with curlicues and grape vines. It was lovely to behold in the daytime and at night the place glowed like a marble headstone. Mrs. Plissey unlocked the glass door and held it open for Spike as he stepped inside before she lumbered in behind him.
They passed through the white and beige entryway. To the left of them rows of narrow, silver mail boxes were embedded in the wall, to the right was a blue, carpeted staircase. From the vaulted ceiling hung a crystal chandelier, lending some glamour above the muddy, yellowing, linoleum floor. Mrs. Plissey strained her way up to the third floor and Spike wished he could carry her along with the groceries. If she were his mum, he would’ve moved her out of that place no matter the cost, he thought.
When they got to her door, Mrs. Plissey had to catch her breath before she could undo the lock. Spike shifted the bags and tried not to look uncomfortable; he was beginning to feel their weight.
It was then he noticed someone watching them, a pretty, blonde girl who couldn’t have been more than nineteen. She was standing in front of one of the apartment doors pretending to look at her mail. He gave her a cocky smile and straightened his back in a way he hoped conveyed how easily he was bearing Mrs. Plissey’s purchases. When he looked into her eyes, Spike’s smile hitched and the air felt like it was being pressed from his chest.
The girl’s eyes were green, but that was really beside the point. They were haunted eyes, anguished eyes. If Mrs. Plissey had the eyes of a young woman, still innocent and playful despite her seventy-nine years, this girl had just the opposite. She had the eyes of a much older person, not in a frat-guy-trying-to-seduce-a-high-school-girl-with-talk-of-her-old-soul kind of way. No, she looked at him the way his school chum, Ewan, did.
Ewan had come back from the war all wrong; he had been discharged after being diagnosed with a sterile acronym that didn’t quite illustrate the depth of his misery. He had told Spike about his terrible nightmares, his fear of both open and enclosed spaces. That poor lad had taken a short trip off a ledge a few months after he’d come home and Ewan’s suicide still nagged at Spike.
Spike stared at her, into her, seeing echoes of his friend. He looked into her eyes willing her to know how badly he wanted to make it better.
Mrs. Plissey pushed her door open and he reluctantly tore himself away from the strange young woman. He set her bags on the kitchen table and gave the older lady a quick hug.
“Ooh, wait, I made you some zucchini bread,” Mrs. Plissey said, holding up her index finger to keep him from leaving.
She went into her refrigerator and took out a foil-wrapped loaf with a red ribbon tied around the thick middle. Spike took the gift and then planted a hurried kiss on Mrs. Plissey’s forehead.
“Bye, love, Happy New Year,” he said.
“Happy New Year,” she said after him as he ran into the hall. Spike was hoping to catch the girl with the tortured eyes, but she was already gone.
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