Martin was off running errands with Mumsy. Kaylee and Njal were tending the bar, for better or worse. Emerson was on what he had said was “a very serious diplomatic mission” to the Brunel and wouldn’t be home until later. This was Junie’s opportunity to sink into a deep tub of hot water and soak in peace before going out for Valentine’s Day dinner, and there was a spring in her step as her boots crunched through the snow. As she crossed the Peral Canal bridge toward the Wheatstone house she shared with Emerson, she noticed an urchin crouching on the top step of the porch, reaching toward the door.
“Hey!” she shouted.
Stunned at being caught, the urchin stood up quickly, revealing a little red bag that he had just plucked from the doorstep. Phaedra’s candy! Junie’s eyes widened as she considered the ramifications of losing the precious contents of that little bag, undoubtedly left by a careless messenger, and for a moment the whole world seemed to come to a halt. There was only her and the urchin, staring at each other for an interminable space of time as they each evaluated the next move.
She flinched first. “Drop it!” she shouted, and instantly they were both running.
The urchin was fast, but didn’t count on Junie’s quick tenacity and almost lost the race before it had begun. She cut him off at an angle from the steps but her grasp on his jacket was loose and he was able to shrug it off. He dodged around the house and then quickly around the back, Junie’s boots pounding furiously behind him. To her the boy seemed to run like a rabbit, bounding to and fro across the snow in a more or less random pattern, making it difficult to predict his next move. She was inspired though; driven; her lungs already burned with effort but there was NO way she was going to lose those candies.
The boy cut east and ran between the clock and the Aeroworks, looping back around to the bridge she’d crossed on her way home, skittering down the stairs and breaking into a dead run across the open lot. Junie leapt down several stairs at a time, losing precious few seconds before engaging in a full-on sprint. The urchin hopped onto a raising bridge and pulled the lever, setting it into motion. He was counting on it moving up and out of her reach before she could get there, but she was able to loop an arm around one of the rails as it rose. Even as she swung her leg up over the edge though, he was attempting to scramble up the far wall before the bridge finished its ascent.
Glancing behind him at the extremely angry redhead whose stomping boots had just gained purchase on the snowy bridge, the boy lunged forward onto the ledge. He came to a rather unexpected and abrupt halt, however, as he slammed into something and fell backward onto the now-level bridge. Above him stood Emerson, wearing a confused expression and holding a bouquet of flowers. Junie quickly pounced on the boy, wrested the red bag from his grasp before he knew what was happening, and then yanked him to his feet. Not wanting to stick around for further analysis of his transgression, the urchin made a hasty escape, leaving a rather stunned Emerson staring at a rather disheveled Junie.
“So… ” he began cautiously.
Junie struggled to catch her breath, her face red and brows furrowed from exertion. She looked at him with a fiery intensity intended for the candy thief, hands on her hips, still too breathless for words. To Emerson, her unconscious scowl bore a family resemblance that bordered on disturbing.
He cleared his throat and held out the bouquet.
“How was your day?”