Snowflakes drift down, barely visible in the streetlamps, wet and melting as soon as they land. It’s a gloomier image than Alma would like as she watches out the window, but Kamila is snug in bed and Jowd will be home soon after a late day. She smiles to herself; a cozy evening waits. What stories will she hear and which details will she have to keep in mind when she hears the other side of the rivalry in a few days’ time for her birthday?
Husband and best friend are both ridiculous. Maybe one day they’ll realize how much.
The snow is closer to rain, which, on one hand, better for the bike. On the other it’s downright dreeeary. Still, Cabanela has the day’s events to distract him as he pedals toward home. Jowd raised a valid point, maybe two—Cabanela can concede that much—but overall, he knows his victory is assured. And that will bring them… to a tie. Well, that’s just one step closer to a lead.
He neatly swerves around a puddle and grins to himself. A mystery nearly solved and Alma’s birthday in a few days: it’s going to be a great week, baby.
The squeak of the windshield wipers stop and for a moment Jowd merely sits in the dark car, letting the day wholly settle before preparing to go in the house. He has some ideas and judging by Cabanela’s poise, tone and a certain look about him, he did too no matter how he kept it to himself. The next few days will prove to be interesting he’s sure. For now Alma awaits, and he’s curious to know her opinion on the matter.
Light spills from the house window, warm and beckoning, and Jowd exits the car to answer their call.
The medics fuss around Cabanela and he wishes they’d stop. What he really wants is to jump away and chase after. It’s too late, he knows, and while the pain seems a distant thing it tugs at him, threatening to pull him into the descending fog. He made his move. Jowd has their key, and he trusts no one more to handle this now. He’ll concede this much (he’s still ahead after too much time lost).
There’s a faint glow on the horizon and as his vision darkens he knows one truth. They’ll make it. Their dawn approaches. For everyone.
Fate is inevitable. Jowd was slated for execution and so he has been. He wants to relish this, linger in the company of shared emptiness with the shell that remains as testament to his mistakes. A few short hours ago he would have welcomed this truly fitting end. Now the spark he thought long-dead has flared to life and anger burns for daughter left waiting, for his old friend left behind with a breaking promise and for she whose absence they’ll never fill.
So much for fate. When the ghosts return he’s ready. They will create their new dawn together.
They will not join her—that much Alma holds onto through the layers of entangled timelines. An envy burns at her core for the ghosts who can do what she cannot. She watches Cabanela’s bullet come, before that timeline is cut away. She longs to wrap around his draped form, hoping he feels something of her in comfort. She sees Jowd die again and again. This time seems cruelest of all, lost below the waves. She reaches for him and their daughter even as she knows: it’s not over.
One ray of hope remains. Their nightmare ends. Dawn has come.
Tree lights glint off ornaments and the shiny packages below—very different from that first solitary Christmas surrounded by blank walls with only the fresh memory of Alma’s death to keep Jowd company.
For nearly five years Jowd knew what to expect. Then Alma’s birthday came and went and he could breathe again. No, five years passed nearly as expected. Something else changed; how could it not after all he knows now? Points reset (he’s ahead for now, he feels impossibly ahead in all), promises went unbroken and somehow two plus one became three. An empty hole filled to overflowing.
She was dead today. The thought strikes with a sudden chill and Alma cups her cocoa closer, taking in its warmth, simply feeling. She’s alive now. That time no longer exists. This day here and now stretches before her, full of joy and warmth with her loved ones. Husband, partner, daughters, cat. Whatever day this might have once been no longer holds sway over them. They’re a family now, claimed or otherwise.
No, she has only her cocoa to focus on while marveling that the girls hadn’t excitedly risen yet before she goes to wait for the others with Jowd.
A fresh layer of snow covers the ground under the rising sun, spotless and pristine to Cabanela’s eyes from the doorway. This precious day will be beautiful, but even as that pleasant thought passes a darker thought follows. What happened last time? Alma was gone. Jowd was alone. For himself he imagines this day passed by like any other in pursuit.
It’s a terrible version best left alone. They have each other and that thought warms him against the building cold. Love and that same warmth wait inside and he falls back to join Jowd and Alma. Nothing like it.
The girls sit on the floor by the tree and Kamila chatters excitedly at a gift from Lynne.
On the couch hands entwine and smiles are shared at the display. Alma wasn’t always aware of the emptiness lurking in her consciousness, but now she feels full and warm in the presence of her beloved family. There is no urgency propelling Cabanela; unanswered questions no longer exist and he’s here simply for this moment. For Jowd, memories of that empty room fade under bright lights and the feel of his loved ones all around. They have each other, now and always.