Henry climbed the last few stairs and discovered the old man’s study door was open, but only by an inch or so - the dim light from within wavering onto the landing.
Carter Babbitt sure did love his candles. Whenever he’d see the bright, fake light emanating from things he called “newfangled,” he’d frown and say that real knowledge was born with real light.
The phone in Henry’s pocket rumbled and he looked down to see the trace of unwavering light his grandfather would most certainly frown upon. He pulled the phone out, just enough to read: “Five minutes! Come on down to help with dinner!”
Henry sighed and clicked away his mother’s message, then went a step better and turned off the phone entirely, which may have surprised the phone most of all.
Five minutes? He can barely START a story in five minutes.
Henry looked up, the door still open only an inch or two. The old man’s ears apparently were open much wider.
“Chief?” the young boy replied as he elbowed the door open and peered inside.
“Chief” was the name Nathan had always called his father. It was one of Henry’s first words too, even though it was a tricky one for a two-year-old to master.
“Ah! There you are!” Carter said with a smile, candles burning on his desk. “I thought I heard you come in, along with a lecture of sorts about making a proper greeting on Christmas Eve.”
“Oh...right,” Henry answered, knowing he was busted. “Guess I forgot both times. Merry Christmas.”
The old man leaned back in his chair, pressing his fingertips against each other. “Merry Christmas, Grandson,” he smiled. “I also heard Abigail mentioning tomorrow’s ice-skating over at the Park. With dancing I hear?”
Henry knew what was coming next.
“Seems like a nice opportunity lost, don’t you think?” his grandfather continued. “Skating, dancing, a pretty girl. Am I missing anything?”
“No. No, I like Abigail,” Henry answered, trying to get out of it. “It’s just that, with the snow and everythi...”
“Nonsense,” Chief interrupted as he rose from his chair. “Don’t blame that on your mother. The only one to blame for missing out on that...is you. One of these days you need to stop being so nervous about it.”
Carter gestured toward the ancient chair Henry always liked sitting in.
“Having said that though,” he admitted, looking for something on his desk. “It is quite an impressive snowstorm out there tonight.”
“Yup, sure is.”
A downright nasty one, if ya ask Mom. Riggins. Maybe a few others.
Henry was already busy surveying the quirky office he’d loved since forever, seeing if there might be anything new to the overflow of artifacts from almost every continent.
There were the old wooden boxes that held Chief’s collection of royal garments from ancient Egypt; century-old newspapers stacked next to an original golf club from St. Andrews; and an enormous framed image of his grandparents sitting in the cockpit of Howard Hughes giant aircraft from the 1940’s: the Spruce Goose. Oh, and yeah, an actual dirty and worn first-base from Yankee Stadium back from the Mickey Mantle days. One that the Mick, Joe Dimaggio and countless other champs thumped their cleats into a few thousand times.
“See anything new?” Chief asked as he turned to face him.
“Not yet,” Henry answered, shaking his head. “Am I missing anything?”
With a smile, Carter held out the single item he’d been looking for on his cluttered and timeworn desk: a single sheet of paper, which even from a few feet away, looked old. VERY old.
“This,” Chief said as he held it up, pinned between his thumb and forefinger. “This is what you’re missing.”