These are the final chapters. Thanks so very much to all who took the time to read this, and a special thanks to those who reviewed the story.
Trip walked ahead of Malcolm, opening the black metal gate with a creak, allowing Malcolm to pass through into the front garden. Malcolm looked up through the greenery and caught sight of the house up the path, the lights from within casting enough of a glow in the dark night to illuminate some of the facade. It was a beautiful house, in its own way, but, yes, 'frothy' was a good word to describe it; it was layers of white, detail upon detail, balconies and balustrades. Trip walked past him, approaching the porch, and Malcolm stood there a moment in the garden, the night soft on his cheeks. He sniffed in the scent of damp and decay so common in this town and saw flickering lights moving about in the grass: fireflies.
He heard a doorbell chime from the porch and turned to see Trip there, shifting nervously. Malcolm skipped up the several steps and stood just behind him as the porch light flicked on and the door opened, revealing an older woman, white hair piled high on her head. He could hear the soft sounds of music coming from somewhere inside as she stood there, framed by the bright lights behind her.
"Yes? May I help you?" she asked, her accent gentle; and quite different, to his ears, from Trip's.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, ma'am," Trip replied, his voice shaking slightly. "Did you live here about fifteen, twenty years ago?"
The woman nodded, seeming a bit wary.
"I believe I have something of yours," Trip said softly, holding out one hand towards her. He unfurled his fingers, revealing the amulet.
The woman looked at the object, then back at Trip, her eyes wide with surprise. Tentatively, she reached out and plucked it from his palm. "I'd thought that this was gone forever," she said, wrapping her fingers around it. Her expression turned sharp. "How did you get it?"
"I stole it," Trip said, his gaze steady despite the blush creeping across his cheeks. Nervously, he quickly added, "Well, my friend stole it, but I was there, and knew about it." He took a breath, making a visible effort to calm down. "I've come here to return it..."
"Finally," she said, interrupting.
Trip smiled apprehensively. "I am so sorry."
The woman watched him suspiciously. "Are you still doing that sort of stuff?"
"No, ma'am," he said. "It was sort of a temporary idiocy."
Her eyes moved to Malcolm. "He being truthful?"
Malcolm nodded and said, "Yes".
"We've all had our indiscretions," she said, looking down at the amulet. After a long moment, she returned her gaze to Trip. "Some, more than others, can really come back to bite you in the ass."
She said this lightly in tone, but something in her eyes made Malcolm think that she knew something that she wasn't explicitly stating.
Trip nodded solemnly. "Absolutely." He hesitated. "Will things be all right now?" he asked in a quiet voice.
The woman nodded. "Yes," she said. "It should be happy to be home. You should be all right now."
Trip smiled genuinely. "Thank you."
She smiled back. "You're welcome. Now get off my porch."
Trip laughed. "Yes'm."
"Do you think she knew?" Malcolm asked as Trip closed the gate behind them.
As they began walking down the street, towards the trolley stop, Trip nodded. "She seemed to know something. I didn't feel like she caused it or anything, but she seemed to know something."
Peering at his friend from the corner of his eye, Malcolm asked, "What are you going to tell the Captain?"
"The truth, I think," Trip said. He stopped walking and turned to Malcolm, eyes hidden in the darkness. "That I had to return something important to someone, and it couldn't wait."
"He may want more of an explanation than that."
"I know," Trip said with a sigh. "I guess I'll have to deal with all that once I get back."
"Once you get back?" Malcolm asked, emphasising the first word in surprise.
Trip nodded, smiling rakishly. "Sure," he said with a shrug. "Listen, I'm already AWOL, sort of." He looked around them, taking in the street, busy even at this late hour. "It's the middle of the night, anyway." He threw out his arms. "And we're in New Orleans."
"Come on, Malcolm," Trip said, stepping closer, closing the distance between them. "Come with me."
Trip nodded. "Now," he said softly. Then, with a small wince, he said, "At least then I won't be able to blow you off again."
Malcolm looked down at ground, at his feet, anywhere but at Trip.
"I'm sorry that I hurt you," Trip said. "I'm an idiot. I was just...I don't know what I was just." He sighed. "I'd like to try to make it up to you, if you'll let me."
Malcolm nodded vaguely, but he still didn't look up. He was unsure if he was willing...He felt Trip take his hand and he could feel the contact, electric, and he gasped.
"Please, can we try this again?" Trip asked.
Malcolm raised his eyes to Trip's. Trip had moved slightly, throwing his face into the light, and his eyes burned with the depth of his feeling. Malcolm stood there, frozen. He was unsure, but...he closed his eyes for a brief moment, and felt his resolve melt.
"All right," he replied in a whisper.
Trip tugged his hand gently. As they walked away, hand-in-hand, Malcolm thought, "Who's the idiot now?"