Chapter Ten- A Warm Home

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"Karolyn Grace Winters, what on earth were you doing out there?" A tall woman with a heavy Italian accent yelled as soon as Karolyn opened the front door or her apartment. The two of us had ended up talking for a good while about our varying opinions on what happened to the Roanoke colony, and she'd insisted that I warm up inside when we reached her house. She was very convincing.

"Sorry, Mom," Karolyn said meekly. "I got to talking with Donovan and..." She trailed off as her mother poked her head around her to look at me closer.

"You're Donovan?" the woman, Karolyn's mother asked. I barely had time to nod before she swept me through the door and into the house.

"Mom!" I heard Karolyn exclaim, but the woman was already sitting me down on a small couch and bustling off to find something.

"You must be freezing, you poor boy," Karolyn's mother said from the other room before hurrying back with a towel. "Karolyn has no business walking around in rain like this, but we can't much keep down as free of a spirit as hers, but taking someone else out like this is just selfish of her."

Karolyn stood a few feet away with a look of astonishment on her face.

"Mom, I ran into him!" she protested. "I didn't bring him out and make him walk with me!" Her mother looked skeptical.

"Karolyn, I've known you for almost eighteen years, and if you think you can convince me that you didn't use any amount of persuasion to get him out in the rain with you..."

"Ask him!" Karolyn insisted, before mouthing "sorry" to me over her mother's shoulder.

"Karolyn and I just happened to run into each other," I explained calmly. "We both enjoy walking in the rain, it seems, so we decided to join one another in our walks." Karolyn's mother looked skeptical for a moment, but then sighed and turned back to Karolyn.

"Would you go and make hot chocolate for the two of you?" she asked, and Karolyn nodded and left for the kitchen. The woman before me waited until Karolyn was out of the room and then turned to talk to me. "Now, tell me, did she bat her eyelashes or something to get you in the rain? You can say no to her, you know. She has a way of getting what she wants, not on purpose, but all the same."

I laughed and dried off my hair some with the towel she'd given me, pushing it back so that it was out of my eyes.

"Honestly, we just ran into each other and got to talking," I told her. "I think Karolyn's interesting, and so I wanted to walk with her. The rain was just a bonus."

"Well," she said after a moment, "Karolyn thinks you're quite interesting too. She says you have a fascinating story, but that she doesn't know it yet. She's always caught up with her wild fascination of stories of people... Anyway, it seems I've forgotten to introduce myself in my momentary madness. I'm Imelda Winters, though you can certainly call me Imelda."

I shook her outstretched hand and smiled.

"I'm Donovan Gates, though you seem to already know that." At that moment, Karolyn returned with two steaming cups and set one down on the coffee table near me. She'd changed out of her wet clothes into loose sweatpants and a t-shirt, something I'd never seen her in before, and I couldn't help but think it was cute, especially with her cold-stricken red nose and cheeks. She was always dressed in this effortlessly stylish manner, but this was a nice look on her. A rare sight of her in her element. I shook my head slightly, clearing my mind of such thoughts, and scooped up my hot chocolate. When I took a sip, I burnt my lip, but the rich, dark taste was well worth it.

"She didn't scare you, did she?" Karolyn whispered, and the three of us laughed. "Her boisterous, native Italian side comes out with the strength of a bear sometimes."

"Oh, you haven't seen my bear until you've seen me defending my children," Imelda told us. "Speaking of children, have you seen your brothers today?"

Karolyn rolled her eyes and snorted, surprising me; I'd only ever seen her be kind and amiable, and this display of sass caught me off guard.

"Last I saw them was a week ago when they said they were road-tripping to New York," she said, then looked at me. "I have two older brothers, neither of which have any degree of common sense or personal preservation. Dante's nineteen and Luka is twenty-three."

"I guess I thought you were an only child, for some reason," I said, and Karolyn burst into laughter.

"Not by any means!" she exclaimed. "Any more it feels like I'm one, with them gone all the time, but no. I have my big brothers."

I thought of her living with two siblings and her mom and suddenly realized how small their house was. It was cozy, especially the living room, but it only appeared to have two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. Karolyn seemed to read my thoughts and said, "we moved here as soon as Luka moved off to college. We couldn't afford a bigger house anymore since my dad died. But you know. Our house is small, but it's warm."

"I like it," I told her, and I could tell by her smile that this made her happy.

"Well thanks," she said softly. She was quiet for a moment and then looked at the clock. "Hey, when do you have to be home?"

I was about to say "no time", but then my Reaper instincts kicked in to keep up my disguise.

"About five," I told her, thinking about what a normal parent would say for a rainy Sunday evening. Karolyn nodded.

"Well then I probably ought to see you off; it's four-forty right now. Are you done with your hot chocolate?"

I glanced down at the mug in my hand and was surprised to see that I'd drank it all without noticing.

"It appears I am," I noted. "I'll be off then, I suppose. Thank you both for your hospitality."

Karolyn stood to walk me out and her mother waved.

"Come again whenever you want to, Donovan!" she called. "You're always welcome in the Winters' household!"

Karolyn walked me out to the street and then stopped.

"You probably don't want me walking you home after that mess," she joked, and I smiled.

"I can't honestly say that I'd mind if you did, though your mother might kill you." I began walking away but then turned back to Karolyn. "We should walk again," I told her, and her eyes lit up.

"Next rainy day?" she asked, and I nodded.

"Next rainy day." And I was off, strolling back towards my apartment with a smile on my face. Apparently Ben noticed, for when I walked in the door, he gave me an odd look.

"What are you in love or something?" he asked. "Stop smiling like that; it's freaking me out." I laughed and he shook his head. "What happened to Mister Dark and Brooding?"

I shrugged.

"I guess I just had a realization," I said before leaving to my room and shutting the door. I had to keep myself from laughing when I heard Ben mutter "weirdo" after I shut my door and flopped back onto my bed.

Ben had a point; I was never this cheerful. The most I ever laughed was maybe once a day at some ridiculous human antic I witnessed, and yet here I was laughing and smiling like a normal human being.

I blamed Karolyn.

And I couldn't honestly say that I minded.

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