Head in the clouds. Feet on the ground. Heart in the story. Christa Kinde is a cheerful homebody whose imagination takes her new places with every passing day. Making her home between misty mornings and brimming bookshelves in Southern California, she’s been writing for more than a decade, but the Threshold Series is her first foray into fiction. Learn about Christa’s books, Bible studies, short stories, weekdaily serials, and more at ChristaKinde.com.
Part Nine: Favorite Nephew
You can find Part 1 HERE
You can find Part 2 HERE
You can find Part 3 HERE
You can find Part 4 HERE
You can find Part 5 HERE
You can find Part 6 HERE
You can find Part 7 HERE
You can find Part 8 HERE
The motorcycle engine cut, and in the sudden absence of noise, Marcus held his breath, unsure what to expect. When it came to the disguises of Caretakers, anything was possible. And Uncle Al had the weirdest sense of humor. Are you going to embarrass me?
If you insist. He removed his helmet and beamed at them. “I didn’t realize I rated a welcoming committee.”
“Yo.” To Marcus’s relief, Aleff had fallen back on his usual disguise, matching Marcus’s skin tone and dulling his spun-copper hair to ordinary brown. There wasn’t really much of a resemblance, but the tweaks made their cover story easier to believe.
“How’s my favorite nephew? And is it just me, or have you grown?”
“And this is?”
Marcus said, “My friend Ransom.”
“Best friend,” countered Ransom, who thrust out a hand. “But I can tell that you’re his favorite person.”
“Oh?” Aleff’s gaze slid Marcus’s way. “Why’s that?”
“Because he wanted to see you pretty bad.” Ransom jerked a thumb at the curb. “We’ve been sitting out here for two hours.”
Aleff’s thoughts thrummed with amusement. Plot twist. He’s going to embarrass you.
Marcus punched Ransom’s arm. “Did it occur to you that maybe Uncle Al’s late?”
“Nope. Is he? Are you?”
Aleff checked the angle of the sun and smiled. “My timing’s always been excellent. And Marcus and I go way back. He knows what to expect.”
Uncle Al was Marcus’s family, his guardian angel, and his fairy godmother all wrapped up in one. And seeing him again sent so much joy coursing through his soul, Marcus was struggling to keep in check.
Swinging off the motorcycle, Aleff ditched his helmet and draped an arm across Marcus’s shoulders. Leaning against him in a casual show of affection, he cheerfully asked, “Do you miss me when I’m gone?”
“I do. A lot.”
Aleff blinked, then ruffled Marcus’s hair. “Nephew mine, I’ll grant you one wish. Up to half my kingdom!”
Marcus grimaced, but the allusion was lost on Ransom, who said, “There’s your opening. Ask for a bike.”
“Wheels, is it?” asked Aleff.
With a gusty sigh, Marcus said, “Like I told you before. It’d be good if I could have a bike. Please.”
“Can do.” Aleff peered toward the house. “But first, may I meet your new family?”
Easing out from under Aleff’s arm, Marcus headed up the driveway. “They insist.”
“To make sure I’m legit?”
“It’s simple, really.” Ransom jogged ahead and turned to walk backwards in front of them. “If you want to get in with the Turnquists, you gotta survive teatime with Flopsy.”
Aleff’s eyebrows arched. “So it’s to be trial by fire?”
Marcus leveled a warning look at the caretaker and gruffly demanded, “Be nice to my sister.”
“What are you doing?” Marcus whispered.
Aleff’s smile widened. “Being nice.”
“You can stop.”
“Stop what?” Aleff asked innocently.
“The first course was candy coated mints.”
“And my breath is remarkably fresh.”
Marcus shot a look in the direction of the kitchen. “Second course was flower petals.”
“A daring culinary choice.”
Ransom leaned back on his hands. “How many courses do you figure we’ll get?”
“No clue.” The three of them sat on the floor, their knees colliding beneath a flimsy play table. Flopsy was going all out for Marcus’s uncle. He had to admit, “We could be here all day.”
Aleff dabbed at the corner of his mouth with the blue tissues Flopsy had given them for napkins. “You sister has offered hospitality. How could I turn her down?”
Marcus hung his head in defeat. “Yeah. Same here.”
Ransom picked up one of the sweetcorn-shaped salt and pepper shakers used to set the table. Tipping a few granules into his hand, he licked it and blinked. “This is sugar.”
Plucking up the other one, Aleff gave it a shake. Multi-colored sprinkles fell onto his palm. With a low chuckle, he said, “I love kids.”
“Is your sister’s name really Flopsy?”
“Nope. Nickname.” Marcus shrugged. “My foster-mom sometimes calls her Flossie, but I think that’s short for something, too.”
“Florence,” said Aleff.
Ransom leaned forward. “So what’s Al short for?”
“Care to guess?”
“Alan? Albert? Alvin?”
“Alas, all wrong!”
Warming to his task, Ransom got more creative. “Alphonse? Alonzo?”
“Not even close.”
“Oh, man. You guys are kinda Hispanic, right?” Ransom’s brows knit. “Uhh … Alejandro?”
Aleff’s expression melted into wistful affection. “I like you, Ransom Pavlos.”
His eyebrows shot up. “I got it?”
“Nope. You’re utterly lost.”
Marcus cut in. “Here comes the next round.”
His foster sister emerged from the kitchen, taking baby steps as she balanced a pink plastic tray in both hands. Ransom craned his neck to see into the crooked row of paper cups. “What did you make for us, Flopsy?”
“Special tea and cookies.” The look of absolute concentration didn’t leave her round face until she lowered her burden. Then a shy smile put a dimple in each of her cheeks. “The lemon ones, since they’re the only ones Marcus likes.”
“Is my dear nephew fussy about foodstuffs?” Aleff asked.
“Picky, picky,” Flopsy replied with a giggle.
Dropping to her knees next to Marcus, she gave each of them a paper cup. He gave the dark liquid a cautious sniff. Flopsy’s special concoctions usually involved mixing whatever was in the refrigerator or pantry.
Ransom took a swig and began coughing, eyes watering.
“Flopsy, did you …?” Mrs. Turnquist appeared in the kitchen door, an empty soy sauce bottle in her hand. “Oh, you did. I’m so sorry, boys. Set those cups aside. Flopsy, let’s make orange drink instead.”
Marcus and Ransom pushed back their cups as the girl skipped to the kitchen. But Aleff took a long swig and smacked his lips. “I detect black tea, grape drink, chocolate syrup, and soy sauce.”
Ransom goggled. “You’re insane.”
Aleff selected one of the yellow cream-filled sandwich cookies and expertly twisted the layers apart. “Is that a problem for you?”
“Are you kidding?” Ransom cuffed Marcus’s shoulder. “Your uncle is amazing!”
Marcus ducked his head, but he relaxed into a genuine smile. “Yep.”
“That’s the place,” said Aleff, pointing to a store along Main Street.
Mike Turnquist hit his turn signal and slowed. “Isn’t that a used bookstore?”
“It is, but the owner sells odds and ends. A friend of a friend let me know he has what we need.” Draping an arm over the back of the front seat, Aleff cheerfully asked, “You okay with a used bike?”
Marcus’s foster father pulled into a space not far from The Curiosity Shop, and Ransom catapulted from the car. It wasn’t hard to see why. Marcus followed his best friend’s gaze to the bakery that stood kitty-corner across the street.
Aleff noticed and playfully asked, “Divide and conquer?”
“Okay by me.”
“I’ve been hoping for a chance to share embarrassing baby stories with Mike.” Waving vaguely toward Main Street, Aleff said, “Go on. We’ll find you.”
Ransom flashed Marcus a grateful grin, then sprinted across the street. The bakery was locked up, but the CLOSED sign didn’t diminish Ransom’s enthusiasm. “This is it!”
“I see some pies. I like cake better, but pie’s okay.” Ransom grumbled, “Wish they were still open.”
Marcus went to shove his hands in his pockets, only to realize that he’d forgotten his jacket. The one thing he was never without. Only he didn’t need it tonight because Aleff was nearby. Enemies retreated. Darkness fled. Peace prevailed. And in the blissful crisp and quiet that came with early autumn evenings, Marcus felt his joy expanding.
Poking Ransom’s shoulder, he announced, “Tag, you’re it.”
For the next half hour, they tore around the lawn in front of town hall. Ransom’s legs were longer, but Marcus’s training held him in good stead. He danced just out of reach, breathless with laughter, heedless of the attention they drew from passersby.
From his post on the roof of the town’s gazebo, Ardon looked on with a peaceful expression. Which gave Marcus an idea. Bench to rail, rail to trellis, he swung up and made it onto the eight-sided roof. Barely. Ardon lent a hand with the last bit, his pale eyes sparkling.
The Guardian was less amused a moment later when Ransom scrambled after Marcus.
But he made it safe and they lay back on neighboring sections, staring up through leaves of russet, gold, and green. For once, it was quiet. Marcus glanced over at Ransom, curious what had him so preoccupied.
Ransom turned his head and asked, “Alfred?”
“Let’s stick with Al,” said a voice from below. “It’s simpler.”
They sat up. Aleff stood below, a paper sack tucked into the crook of his arm and a faded book in his other hand.
“The shop owner threw this in as a freebie. Either of you interested?” He tossed it up with a wild flutter of pages.
Marcus caught it. The dust jacket was missing, so he checked the flyleaf for a title … and snorted again. “It’s for you,” he said, handing it off to Ransom.
While Ransom eagerly flipped through the pages of a dusty old book on French pastry-making, Aleff said, “Mike’s working miracles with bungie cords to secure your new-used bike in his trunk. And our order will be up in ten minutes at the Thai place. Disembark and we’ll be on our way.”
Marcus felt silly scrabbling for toeholds, but it wasn’t as if he could unfurl and wing it.
On the ground again, Ransom held up the book. “Can I really have this?”
“It’s the least I can do. Especially since it wasn’t my doing.” Proffering the grocery sack, Aleff said, “But this … well, the less said the better.”
Marcus joined Ransom in sorting through its contents—flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, butter, eggs, vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, and even a tiny bottle of vanilla extract.
“You knew.” Ransom’s voice cracked when he asked, “How’d you know?”
Aleff simply pointed to Marcus.
Turning to him, Ransom asked, “You told him about me?”
Technically, Marcus had sung about Ransom at evensongs. But it was close enough, so Marcus nodded.
He’d never seen Ransom so happy. Not over extracts and eggs. But because he mattered to Marcus. Enough to be mentioned. Enough to be invited along. Enough to warrant a gift.
“When did this even happen?” asked Ransom.
Aleff smiled. “I hit the corner store while you were applying your noseprint to the bakery window.”
In his enthusiasm, Ransom pulled Marcus in a headlock. “Can your favorite uncle be my favorite uncle?” he asked.
Marcus grunted. “He’d probably like that.”
“I’d support that decision.” Aleff stepped forward and rested his hand atop Ransom’s head. “Welcoming you into the family would give me more joy than I can say.”
Back at the Turnquists, Landon met them at the door with a pile of pent up questions. “Didja get a bike?”
“Yep, Uncle Al found one.”
“What’s it like?”
“Not really sure.”
“What color?” “I haven’t seen it yet.” Marcus handed off two bags of Thai food to Mrs. Turnquist. “Maybe you should help Dad get it out of the trunk. Then you can tell me.”
Landon was off like a shot, nearly colliding with Ransom, who had two more big bags of takeout. “Where do you want these, Mrs. T?” he asked as he toed out of his sneakers.
“Straight to the dining room table, Ransom. Marcus, would you tell Brenna that dinner’s ready?”
“Sure.” Marcus ditched his own shoes and hustled upstairs.
Brenna was Mike and Susanna’s youngest daughter, not a foster child. She lived at home, worked part time, and commuted to college, so he didn’t see a whole lot of her. He tapped on her bedroom door. “Brenna?”
An odd, muffled sound was the only answer.
Marcus’s guard went up so fast, it was hard to keep his wings from extending. Voice low but firm, he said, “Brenna, I’m opening the door.”
She was crying.
The pitiful, pleading look on her tearstained face would have been reason enough. But the gentle nudge of Sending gave Marcus all the assurance he needed to step inside and close the door.
Next Month: Angel Unaware, Part Ten: “Team Player”