Sometimes my characters have more to say, even after their stories are told. These are just for fun.
Heartwood and Mica (Simon Pearce)
“Oof, that was a bit more than I expected,” Cal said as he and Ari and walked out of the watchmaker’s.
Looping her arm through Cal’s, she said, “Does the compass card really have to be mica? The brass card was much less expensive. And a simpler rose—“
“No,” Cal said. “Simon’s Da left him that compass, and I broke it. I need to fix it, and it has to be exactly as it was. You know what he’s like.”
“I do,” she said solemnly.
What Simon was like, Cal thought, was observant. It wasn’t just cheaper materials. Simon would notice the tiniest difference in paint colour or the brushstrokes going the wrong way, and though he’d never say a word about it, he would forevermore look at that compass with unspoken disappointment. And that disappointment would be Cal’s fault.
Snow began to fall, flecking Ari’s fine fox coat and Cal’s somewhat less fine woollen one.
“Only at that price, it’s going to end up being his Christmas present for the next ten years,” Cal added grimly. “If he’ll tolerate me for that long.”
They’d been hiking in the Pentlands a week or two earlier. It had been Cal’s idea. Simon always said said his job with the Edinburgh Police gave him plenty of opportunities to roll around in the muck. He’d rather spend the weekend at the museums. To which Cal always responded with an exaggerated yawn.
Digging out his father’s compass had been Simon’s idea of a compromise. He’d read about a new Swedish sport called Orienteering, and thought the intellectual challenge would make the muck a bit more tolerable.
And it had. They’d been having a grand time, in fact, until Cal had taken a tumble and smashed Simon’s dead father’s compass on a rock.
The compass wasn’t a total loss — smashed glass and a cracked card — but that wasn’t the point. That compass had been the most expensive thing Simon owned, and, as a new medical graduate who had yet to land his first patient…
“I could lend you the money,” Ari said quietly. The Most Honourable Arabella Ferguson certainly did have it to spread around. More importantly, though, she was Cal’s dear friend who wanted him to be happy.
Cal smiled tightly and patted her hand. “Thank you so much, my dear. I’ll keep that offer in reserve, if you don’t mind. But first I have an idea I’d like to try.”
“You want how much for a stick?” Simon said.
“It’s no ordinary stick, lad,” the old man said with a twinkle in his voice.
Simon narrowed his eyes. “I suppose you’re going to tell me it was carved from an enchanted tree by real, live fairies.”
It took several minutes for the old man to stop laughing. He finally wheezed to a halt, clapping Simon’s shoulder with a heavy, weathered hand.
“No, no, lad, nothing like that. This stick is made from the heartwood of an ash tree. It’s strong and flexible and resistant to decay. This stick will last longer than you will.”
Simon cocked an eyebrow. Cheeky. But heartwood. He did like the sound of that. Strong and flexible were good, too. If Cal’s previous hiking stick had been stronger or more flexible, it wouldn’t have snapped like a twig when Simon had leaned on it the wrong way. And Simon wouldn’t have rolled arse over teakettle into Cal’s legs, knocking Cal down and smashing Simon’s father’s compass straight to hell.
He grieved the compass, but felt worse about having nearly sent Cal down the mountain.
“It is quite attractive,” Simon admitted. Who was he kidding? Cal would love the smooth, light wood. He’d appreciate the way that oil would bring out its coarse, open grain. And, Simon suspected, Cal would understand, at some level, the effort to which Simon had gone to right his blunder. “It’s strong, you say?”
“It’s what they use to make hammers and axe handles. I’ll even have an iron tip made up for it.” He winked. “Keep the fair folk at bay.”
Simon folded his arms. A police sergeant’s salary allowed for few luxuries. But he didn’t want luxuries. He had everything he wanted in Cal, and that was priceless.
“And you won’t negotiate the price?”
“Sorry, lad. I got my own weans tae buy presents fae.”
Simon let out a long breath. It was a lot of money. More than he had with him. He’d have to do a bit of trading to scratch the full amount together. But when he thought about it, it would be a small price to pay for seeing Cal happy.
“All right, then,” Simon said, extending his hand.
The old man’s face lit up and he clasped the hand eagerly. “Now, I’ve a selection of silver tops, if you—“
“No,” Simon said firmly. Cal had, at least, been able to save the silver stag’s head ornament that had sat atop his dearly departed hiking stick. “He has one he wants to use. But I’d appreciate it if he could bring it in for you to attach properly.”
“Done, sir. Consider it done.”
Christmas Eve at Comiston House was always a joyous affair. The Most Honourable Richard Fraser, Laird of Comiston never failed to provide a feast fit for royalty. Eliott Warwick, his husband in all but name, kept the conversation and the wine flowing.
For Dr. Callum Webster, who had made himself the centre of their circle, as he made himself the centre of every circle, it was another festive evening among friends. For Sergeant Simon Pearce, though, the evening was like a precious pearl. He hoped he’d never lose his sense of awe and gratitude for these opportunities to dismiss his inner guard, to laugh and flirt and simply be. And to simply be with the person who made life worth living.
The feasting had finished, and the dishes had been cleared away. The smell of brewing coffee perfumed the air. It was finally time to exchange the gifts they’d brought for one another.
Eliott had brought Richard some sort of contraption meant for detecting ghosts. It whirred and clicked and spun around. No one was convinced it could actually sense the presence of a spirit, but it was great fun. For his trouble, Eliott received a robe of jacquard woven silk so fine that he eventually had to put it away so that the guests wouldn’t ruin it by touching. Ari’s latest lady-friend, a botanist, gifted her with a hothouse orchid — quite a feat at the height of a Scottish winter. Ari, in turn, presented her love with the latest Spencer achromatic microscope.
“I’ll go next,” Simon said. A walking stick was difficult to wrap and even harder to hide. He’d slid it beneath the sofa. “Here.”
“A stick?” Eliott snorted. Simon felt his cheeks grow hot.
“Stuff it, Eliott,” Cal said, stroking the staff lovingly. He turned to Simon. “This is ash, isn’t it?”
Simon nodded. “It’s the heartwood.”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’ll be just perfect once I rub some oil into it. I don’t know what to say. Simon, thank you.”
“I still feel badly about breaking yours.”
“No,” Cal said. “This one is much better. It even has an iron tip!” He looked at Simon again. “This had to be expensive.”
Simon shrugged. “After Christmas, we can take it back to the man, and have him attach your silver stag’s head.”
Cal’s grin dissolved.
“What is it?” Simon asked.
“Simon, I sold that silver stag’s head.”
“To buy your present. Your compass. I found someone to make a new mica card and paint it with the same compass rose. He said he could copy the design and—Simon, why are you laughing?”
“Cal, I sold my compass to pay for that damned stick!”
Cal gaped. Then they both burst out laughing.
“Well,” Simon said once he’d caught his breath. “I suppose that’s the end of orienteering for a while.”
“Suits me fine,” Cal said. He took Simon’s hand. “I fancy a trip to the museum anyway. Happy Christmas, sweetheart.”
Simon raised Cal’s fingers to his lips. “Happy Christmas, my love.”
– END –