the scarlet letter, part 3

Miranda heard the brush of Lainey’s shirtsleeve against the armchair, and he pulled his gaze away from the letter to find Lainey crouched over his shoulder. Her eyes paced across the letter, flicking back and forth as they slowly descended.

“Lainey?” She issued no answer, so Miranda proceeded to snap his fingers in the woman’s face. The bind that the letter had over her attention broke, and Lainey took a few dazed steps back and rubbed her eyes. “Good, so you are alive.”

“I was reading, Miranda.” Lainey adjusted her shirt and reapproached Miranda with her hands held out in front of her. “Is it okay if I file that with the other documents? I dout want to to get lost.”

“Why does-” The ring of the doorbell pealed throughout the house, and Miranda’s gaze shot towards the stairway. He pushed himself out of his armchair and planted the letters firmly in Lainey’s hands. “Should I get that?”

“Sure. Whatever.” The woman returned to the laundry room and slammed the door behind herself, eliciting grumbles and complaints from the few other assistants hunched over in the corners of the room. Miranda dashed towards the stairwell and flew over the steps, stopping in front of the door.

The fog on the window blurred the face of whoever was standing outside, freshly formed from the cold front that the city had suffered that morning. Apprehensive, Miranda turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack, allowing himself to peer through the opening.

“It’s just me, Miranda. Not a serial killer.” Austin shook his head. The brown paper wrapping with Miranda’s address on it crinkled as he shifted the box-shaped package in his arms from one elbow to another. “Could you please let me in?”

“That sounds like something a serial killer would say.” Miranda opened the door all the way and slipped back downstairs as Austin entered the house. He wiped his boots on the welcome mat before discarding them against the pile of everybody else’s footwear and joining Miranda downstairs.

“I would think that a serial killer would stride in unannounced.” Austin caught up to Miranda, who was on his way back to the armchair, and pulled him into the vacant bedroom. The bathroom disappeared from view as Austin nudged Miranda away from the doorway and flicked the light on.

Miranda brushed his pants off and eyed the package in Austin’s arms. “They’d also lock the doors behind them.”

“I’m feeling lazy today.” Austin sat down in the floor in front of Miranda. He pulled out a box cutter before adding, “you should probably sit down as well. I’d hate for you to fall and hurt yourself badly.”

Miranda followed his instruction, dropping down to the floor and crossing his legs. Austin extended the blade of the box cutter and dug into the tape on the cardboard box, drawing his breath in as the lid of the box separated into four jagged flaps. “Cup your hands and close your eyes.”

Miranda’s eyelids squeued shut, and he held his hands out together in front of his chest. “If this is spiky or some other kind of twisted joke, I just might become the serial killer here.”

Austin’s coat rustled, and the weight of what felt like a rectangular watermelon settled into his palms. “Open your eyes.”

The androgyne squinted for a moment to let the scintillations pass before the object in his hands came into view. He settled it down into his lap, allowing his fingertips to travel all over the smooth and marbled jade stone that the box had been carved out of. “Is this…”

Austin bowed his head. “Anders didn’t leave a will, Miranda. We did the best we could.”

“It’s beautiful,” he breathed. He brushed a stray strand of hair out of his face and traced a fingernail in the swirling patterns on the urn- a serene fishing scene with a man in a small boat floating inside of a pearly white lake. His eyes softened in awe, and a single teardrop fell onto one of the trees in the background. “May I ask why it’s a fishing scene?”

“His adoptive father went fishing with him farther north upstate when he was much younger.” Austin’s eyes also began shedding tears, and he wiped his face with the sleeve of his coat. His voice trembled as he added, “He told a story once when I accused him of being a soulless monster. If only I could remember all of the details…”

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