The Christies and Caleb were waiting for us on the front porch of the Christies’ house. As soon as Noah brought the Jaguar to a stop Caleb ran down the steps and jumped into his arms. Noel scooped him up and kissed him. “Hi, peanut! Did you miss me? I sure missed you.” Caleb nodded vigorously, his arms around Noel’s neck, and Noel hugged him. “I’m going to have a word with Mr. and Mrs. Christie, and then we’ll go home.”
He put Caleb down, and Caleb took my hand as we climbed the front steps together. “How was he?” Noel asked Alex. “Did he behave?”
“He was very good,” Alex said. “Don’t you agree, Samuel?”
Samuel nodded, grinning at Caleb, and Caleb grinned back.
“The boys like playing let’s pretend that they’re knights,” Julia put in. “I’ve been reading them Round Table stories at bedtime.”
“Caleb knows the Round Table stories well,” Noel said. “I keep expecting him to lose interest but he hasn’t yet. All in good time, I suppose.” Caleb leaned his head on Noel’s arm and Noel stooped to kiss his hair. “And then you’ll move onto — what? Dinosaurs, maybe? Cowboys?” Caleb tapped his fingers on Noel’s arm, as near an answer as we would get, and Noel quietly laughed. “All right, peanut. Let’s get you home.”
“We’re happy to watch him again anytime,” said Julia. “We love having him.”
We thanked the Christies profusely, and got Caleb and his bag in the Jaguar. “Mr. Malcolm and I had fun too,” Noel said as he pulled out of the drive. “We fixed the house up nice and pretty for the next person who’ll rent it from me.” Caleb leaned against Noel’s arm again, and looked up at him. “Do you remember my house?” Noel said. “I know you didn’t come there very often when you lived in the city.” Caleb nodded, a thoughtful look on his face, making me wonder how much of his life he remembered from before the fire.
Which reminded me, and I asked Noel softly, over Caleb’s head, “Where are the photos Dorian developed for you?”
“I have them at my office,” Noel said. “I’ve been meaning to get frames for my favorites, and an album for the rest. I just haven’t made the time.” He looked down at Caleb. “I should do that soon.”
I reached over Caleb to pat Noel’s shoulder, too.
Mrs. Bell was waiting for us at the top of the front steps when we arrived at Fidele, and came down to meet us in the carriage house. Caleb ran to her, and she picked him up and gave him a kiss as Tumnus appeared from nowhere to twine around her ankles, meowing. “Hello, sugar,” Mrs. Bell said. “It’s good to have you home. Do you want some supper? It’ll be ready soon.” Caleb nodded vigorously and then wiggled out of her arms so he could scoop up Tumnus and rub his face in her fur.
Mrs. Bell looked from boy and kitten to us, and an odd look crossed her face, somewhere between a smile and worried frown. “You look like a courting couple,” she said in a low voice. Noel and I glanced at each other — it was a fair assessment, I thought, but I understood her worry.
“We were just–” Noel began.
“Don’t try to fool me, Noel Thibodeaux. I’ve known you since the day you were born.” She exhaled slowly. “Try not to look so — satisfied — around your father. You know he only needs the slightest excuse to turn you over the authorities.”
“Just when I got you to stop frowning all the time,” I remarked, and Mrs. Bell gave me a stern look in return.
“This is no joking matter, Mr. Malcolm. Don’t forget Mr. Emmanuel is a judge in this parish. He has friends in high places, who aren’t too high to play dirty.” She probably would have said more, but Caleb was listening, his eyes wide. She held out her hand to him. “Come along, sugar. Let’s get you tidied up for Grandfather.” They climbed the steps to go into the house.
The tension returned to Noel’s face as he hitched his bag back onto his shoulder. I took his arm and gave his elbow a squeeze. “Hey,” I said. “Don’t look so gloomy. It’ll be all right.”
“How do you know?” Noel said wearily as we climbed the steps.
I waggled my fingers. “Magic.”
He huffed — a sound I hadn’t heard from him all weekend — and said, “Given everything else that has happened lately, magic is as good a reason as any.”