I've been putting off telling Alton about Gula for a while now. I should probably get that taken care of before I get anything else squared away.
"I need to call Alton back," Nathan mumbled to himself, popping two slices of bread into the toaster while he finished up the eggs. Lidia had started to stir, so he fished out his phone again to give the bookseller one more call.
It rang a long time before he answered.
"Sterling and Son. This is Alton speaking. How can I help you?"
"Hey, Alton. It's Nathan again. I..."
"I can't really talk right now; we're a bit busy."
"Oh." He was about to ask how busy, but he heard Alton put the phone aside to speak with a customer, so he waited.
"Sorry about that. You still there, Nathan?"
"Yeah, um... when's a good time to call back?" He realized he didn't want to just tell him over the phone, especially if he had to do more explaining. "Or, is there a time I can stop by to talk when you're less busy? Geeze, I didn't think it'd be so busy there this early. When did you open?"
"About ten minutes ago, and there was a line waiting. It's the day after Thanksgiving; haven't you ever worked Black Friday in retail?"
Nathan winced as he began to get plates down for breakfast. "Years ago, and I totally forgot. Just... call me back when you get the chance?"
"How about I just stop by around noonish, when I close for lunch? I'll bring something for you and Lidia."
"See you then."
Alton hung up before he could say goodbye, and it still took a moment for Nathan to realize what he'd reflexively agreed to. Not that it bothered him, having Alton come over for lunch -- especially with him bringing food, as he was starting to get low again -- it just took a minute for it to all really register. In the end, he smiled. Having the discussion over lunch would probably be the easiest way to break the news to him.
There was a tug at the bottom of his shirt and Nathan turned to smile down at Lidia, who had pulled herself out of bed. "Do you like eggs?" he signed to her.
The little girl nodded and yawned. "I smell toast. Is there jelly too?"
Nathan chuckled, retrieving the toast just as it popped up. "Yes, and jelly too."
Lidia made one of her happy squeals and squeezed his leg, then scurried to the kitchen table to wait for her breakfast. It made Nathan laugh again as he fixed up each of their plates. Even with everything he had to worry about, somehow, just being around this child and seeing her happy made it worth the effort. He decided he would relax, for now, and just enjoy her company until lunch time.
Lidia had coloring books and crayons scattered all over the living room floor by the time noon rolled around, and almost precisely on the hour, there was a knock at the door. She, of course, didn't stir, but Nathan looked up from his copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes he'd finally decided to tackle again. "Just a minute," he called, closing the book and standing to open the door for Alton.
The bookseller smiled gratefully, arms laden with grocery bags as he walked into the apartment. "How does chicken with angel hair pasta, broccoli, and a garlic butter sauce sound?" he asked with a smirk. "I was in a mood for cooking, since my kitchen was run by almost everyone except me last night."
"Sounds great to me, if you have time." Nathan took one of the bags and followed him into the kitchen. "How's Black Friday going?"
"Oh, it's going. Enya volunteered to work the register at one o'clock, when the shop reopens, so I could have some rest. She loves it when it's busy."
Nathan eyed him with some surprise. "Wait, she works there?"
Alton shook his head. "Not usually in the store. I also own a warehouse, where most of my merchandise comes in. She works there, putting products into the system. One of my most efficient adders, truth be told, but she really wanted to work the storefront today. Not that I blame her; I try to encourage my other employees by offering bonus for working the shop on busy sale days, like Black Friday, though only a few jump at the chance." He looked over at Nathan while he began unpacking the bags. "You seem surprised."
"It's just... weird," he admitted. "I guess I forgot that you're running an actual business. It never occurred to me that there was more people working there than, well, just you."
Alton chuckled. "I suppose that makes sense, given who I am. Technically, I could run it alone, but where's the fun in that? I am trying to at least appear human to most."
"Guess I just never thought about it."
He helped him get everything out of the bags and pulled out a pot to boil the noodles. Lidia had noticed there was a guest and squealed when she saw Alton, running up and hugging his waist while he started cutting up the chicken. He paused long enough to say hello to her and tell her what was for lunch, and she enthusiastically signed that it sounded delicious before going back to her coloring. Nathan laughed as she left, shaking his head. "You'd never know how much you scared her before. I guess it's safe to say she's forgiven you for going all demonic on her."
"You were still coming down the steps when I apologized and explained what happened to her," Alton told him. "I do try to keep my outbursts in check, for obvious reasons. Actually, that's one of the reasons I wanted to have lunch here: I wanted to hear what you have to tell me just as much as I wanted to check up on her." He looked over at Nathan. "Even if I'm not truly her guardian angel, I feel better touching base, seeing she's safe. If you don't mind, when you return to work, I would prefer it if you let me watch her."
Nathan wrinkled his nose. "Let me think about that. Not that I don't trust you." He couldn't help but smirk when he said that. "But I think we should be cautious. If you do feel a connection to her, like a guardian, I wouldn't put it past the Sins to try and use that against you." He remembered Gabriel's warning. "Remember how they used Dexter against Micah, at the factory."
"True, true," Alton agreed. "But please, consider it. Things are twisting in ways I never could have predicted, and I'd personally feel more comfortable if I was able to watch her. I won't push the subject, but get back to me and at least let me know what you've arranged, before you're back at work, okay?"
"I think that's a deal I don't mind making with you."
They both laughed, and spent the rest of making lunch with casual talk. Alton told him more about the busy day he'd had, some of the customers that made it very easy for him, the Devil, to come off as a saint. Nathan told him about plans to continue writing for the paper from home for another week, though he was going to stop by the office Monday morning with Scott, just to check in (and he would need someone to watch Lidia for a few hours at that time, for which he more than gratefully accepted Alton's offer). By the time lunch was served, Lidia was already waiting patiently in her seat, kicking her legs and bouncing while the adults brought the plates over. Nathan sat on one side of her while Alton sat across from him, and as much as he'd been putting it off, he finally decided to breech the subject. "So, now that we're sitting, I guess I should tell you why I wanted to talk."
"Possibly," Alton agreed, taking a bite of his chicken and pasta. "Would rather defeat the purpose of having me over to tell me something when you don't say what it is. I'm guessing by your tone it's something you've been putting off."
"I meant to bring it up yesterday, after dinner, but things were crazy enough already, and honestly, I forgot."
"Well, I'm listening now. Go on, Nathan."
The writer drew a deep breath. "I've seen Gula again."
To his surprise, Alton didn't even flinch, glancing up from his next bite. "At the hospital? Yes, Scott mentioned that this morning. I asked him to let me know the next time he sensed anything strange, and he told me about Gloria's new girlfriend." He shrugged. "I figured you would get around to telling me, but hadn't for the very reason you just said."
Nathan let out a small huff and ate some of his lunch before responding. "Well gee, don't I feel stupid now. I'm sorry. Really, I did mean to bring it up sooner..."
"Like I said, it's fine. We've all been busy lately." Alton stared off for a moment, then turned back to him. "If it makes you feel better, Scott didn't tell me many details about what happened, only that Gloria's new girlfriend had a very -- how did he phrase it? -- voracious aura that seemed to be trying to feed off of her when she was near. He also said it seemed to fade the closer they were to each other. I didn't mention it to him, because it's only a guess and Scott's still uneasy with his powers, but that may be because she used to be Gula's host, and there's some lingering masking effect there." He gave Nathan a calm, encouraging smile. "Why don't you tell me more about the incident, since you meant to tell me anyway?"
Well, this wasn't how I expected him to take the news, but I suppose that's a blessing. There are quite a few things to tell him about seeing Gula, like the feather she had and the way she honed in on Lidia. Both of those will probably worry Alton; which should I tell first, or should I mention something else?