by Daniel L. Link
"Where did this come from?"
I've got Andy against the wall. He's terrified, looking at me like I'm a crazy person. My grip on his shirt is so tight that when I let go and smooth out the material I can still see the indentation of my fingers and the outline of my knuckles.
"I'm sorry, Andy." My voice is shaky. I try to calm myself. "It's important. I need to know where you got this."
"I don't know." He scratches the side of his nose, smudging his zombie makeup. "I didn't even know it was in there."
They had been gone less than an hour. That meant whoever had slipped it in their bag couldn't be more than a few blocks away. I wish I hadn't dumped them both on the table together. I can't even be sure whose sack it was in.
"What about you, Shelly?" I ask my youngest. "Did you see who gave you this?"
She shakes her head, wobbling her plastic halo. "No mommy." "What's so important about it?" Andy asks. "You don't smoke."
I flick open the old Zippo, then close it. I can't help but smile, though my mind's going about ninety.
"Did you just stay on our street, or did you go somewhere else?"
"We did this street and then went to Aunt Pat's," Andy says. "Then we came down to the corner."
I say a silent thanks to God that kids don't have the stamina they used to. When I was little, we would have been out all night, would have hit half the town. Two streets isn't so bad.
"Why don't you two get ready for bed?"
"We haven't had any candy," Shelly manages to complain without whining."
"One piece, each of you, then shower and brush and off to bed."
They hover over the table, and I'm almost in tears watching them pick out their favorites. I grip the lighter and rub at the inscription with my thumb. It's worn down over the years, but you can still read it: Rory. We'll always have Dublin.
"Are you okay, Mom?" Andy asks when I'm tucking him in.
Mom, not Mommy. That's another milestone he's missed. Another first he couldn't be here for.
"I'm grand," I say. "Never better."
"Why did that lighter make you sad?"
"Not sad." I smooth his hair and nuzzle his cheek. "No, not sad."
"Why were you crying, then?"
"I was thinking about your father."
"Is it his?"
"Yes," I say. "It is."
That gets Shelly's attention, as well. They're both sitting straight up in their beds, all thoughts of sleep forgotten.
"Tell us more," Andy says.
"Yeah," Shelly says. "More of the story."
"Well you know how we met. I told you how we worked together."
"When you were a spy?" Shelly asks.
"I never said the word spy." I shoot a look at my son.
"Andrew, are you giving your sister ideas?"
"We're not stupid, Mom." He sounds too grown up. "If you can't talk about what you used to do because it's classified, and he can't come around because it's too dangerous, you had to be spies."
"It's cool, is what it is."
"Yeah," his sister says. "Better than make-believe. Next year for Halloween, I want to be a spy."
"Not much of an outfit," I tell her. "You need to fit in to be a spy."
“Why aren't you a spy anymore?" Andy asks.
"Lots of reasons." I can only think of one."
"When did you stop being a spy?"
"I told you. I never said—" They look at me with arms crossed, unrelenting. "Eleven years ago."
"That's just before I was born." Andy's beaming, proud of his quick calculations."
"How long has it been since you've seen him?"
"Seven years," I say, choking on the words. "Same as you. You were so young you probably can't remember."
Andy's face twists in concentration. "Shelly is almost seven."
That makes me laugh. "I wish your maths were this good when you're not delving into my personal life."
"And then we came to America." Shelly supplies her part of the story. "Dublin to Dublin."
"That's right," I say. "Dublin Ireland to Dublin California. Doublin' down on Dublin."
"Does this mean he's here?" Andy reaches out, touches the Zippo. I haven't been able to put it down. "Will we get to see him?"
"In the morning. I'll wake you early, but you can't tell anyone." I put a finger to my lips and seal it tight, throwing away the key. "Not a word. Now to bed with you."
When I put out the light, I still see their heads in the glow from the street outside, their bright red hair wild and unruly like their father's.
Before I'm out the door, Andy says, "You're going to see him, aren't you?"
"Maybe," I tell him.
"Does that mean I'm going to get another sister?"
I laugh and close the door, then race downstairs and out into the night, ready for a little trick-or-treat of my own.
Daniel L Link lives in Northern California where he writes short stories, novels, and flash fiction. He's an assistant editor of the Gold Man Review. His work has been featured in ALM Magazine, the HCE Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Penmen Review, Ariel Chart, and RavensPerch, and will be featured in the upcoming Soliloquies Anthology. Visit his website at daniellinkauthor.com