original; hanging from chandeliers. 1350 words. pg. a tiny excerpt from one of my project's with iva. merry christmas, darling! a very croft christmas: as witnessed by one jon sinclair.
call me poison ivy, 'cause i'm far from good
pretty from afar, like a dark star
[lana del rey]
They never grew up together and that explains everything.
That explains the way the pair of them stand, in the hallway of his house when he is greeting her, the slight formality as she leans in to kiss his cheek, the way they act as if they were childhood sweethearts instead of siblings. It explains why Sinclair, when Archie called him the other day and announced, "My sister is coming to town," had spit coffee onto his shirt and not remembered that Archie even had a sister. It explains the way she pronounces her words, that crisp boarding school accent, the way she smells like London when Archie is all New York. It explains why she holds him by the collar and peers into his face, as if she looking for something that has changed or disappeared.
"You've gotten tall," she notes, brushing her palms over his shoulders and squaring off on her toes.
Behind them, Sinclair muffles a noise into his hand.
"That tends to happen with age, sis," he grins, taking one of her hands into his own, "Living room? It's getting cold in here."
"Oh, don't be such a baby," she laughs, slapping him lightly and moving off. "Jon, was it?" she asks, sticking out one gloved hand.
Jon takes it - she has a good handshake, firm grip. He finds himself smiling when she lets go.
"Jon Sinclair, yes - an associate of your brother's."
"I wasn't aware my brother needed any associates. Daddy was such a lone horse."
Strange to mention their father, when he was buried a month ago in a leafy cemetery with fifty people present and his daughter conspicuously absent among them. Sinclair allows himself the brief thought that Archie's sister would have looked lovely in black; she'd have worn the veil, he guesses, taking in her slim-cut grey skirt and yellow blouse, the way she waves her hands in the air - theatrics, she's the type. Doesn't look a thing like the father, as well, he notes, though she and Archie could be twins, very tall, blonde twins but they could be. He remembers being told that she is a year or two older - of course, that too, is everything.
"Have you, er, come home for the holidays, then?" he asks, when they are seated. Archie is pouring out whiskeys, his back to the room. Across from him, the lady Croft stretches her long legs out and pulls a smile, a one sided affair, tugging up one corner of her mouth. There is something rather sly about it.
"I wouldn't really say so," she drawls, one hand pulling the pins out of her hair. Rather familiar but she has had a long trip, many hours across the channel, he thinks that she must be exhausted. One long white hand massages the back of her neck, fluffing the hair up. "I don't think we're much of a holiday family - it just sort of happened to work out this way. Though, of course, it's lovely to be with Archie for the season." She tips her head to one side, smile widening up to either cheek. "I suppose we're all each other has left."
The man in question pauses at that, hands stilling over the glasses, a certain stiffness working into his back.
“Let’s drink to that, shall we?” and they do, all three of them, clinking glasses in front of a fireplace on Christmas Eve, and it feels for a moment, some kind of idyllic pause. Sinclair and Croft, they are not peaceful beasts, they are quick footed wolves always, a racing car team. This woman is not there to slow them down, she is the calm and the storm that comes after it.
They make a lonely trio around the table, the city around them buzzing with merriment. Cordelia had arrived late, rushing into the room with her coat still on, bags in her hand and snow dusting her shoulders. Archie had been pacing and he stopped, right in front of her with his arms clasped behind his back.
"Sorry to make you wait," she had said, uncurling a scarf (red) from around her neck, "I had a few last minute things to pick up - well, this is a merry gathering."
There is a bottle of wine on the table, already half empty and a cold dinner spread and they eat in half silence, broken by talks of the weather ("It doesn't snow like this in London," Cordelia comments, wistfully) or the season, which ends with Jon being asked to remember the best of his holidays.
"I don't like to think about that sort of thing," he says, carefully, truthfully - it is the truest answer he can give at this table, with this woman sitting before him, this strange woman who doesn't want to know about Jon Sinclair's family, not on Christmas day.
"I won't push you then," she decides, sipping at her drinking and looking as if she'd like to, as if nothing would please her better than to push him. Her face looks golden in the candlelight, golden and alien and very lovely. She looks like Garbo, if Garbo were playing a police investigator. She looks like she could rip him to pieces and take what he withholds.
"Sinclair's awfully restrained, you know," Archie comments, on a laugh.
"That so?" she asks, lifting up those pale eyebrows.
Sinclair splutters, "That's rich coming from Archie!"
"Oh," Cordelia waves that away, "Restrained with you, perhaps. We're brother and sister, Mr. Sinclair. Surely you can't imagine my brother has any - restraints when he speaks with me." She covers Archie's hand with hers, slipping her fingers into the curve of his palm. Something about the way her brother's stiffens to her side, the way Cordelia's fingers are taut, the brazen smile on her face; the pair of them have the appearance of a very good farce, completed when Archie laughs, that rich, hearty sound that he uses to seal business deals, chimes in with: "Of course."
All unhappy families, isn't it? Tolstoy would have never written one such as theirs, these smoke and mirror remains of what once a proper home.
Cordelia is pouring champagne; he ought to say no to this glass but there is nothing else, Sinclair, is there? No other places to go. Andy is off somewhere else, all his other contacts for lack of a better word, have places to be on this night. Outside, the streets are wide and white and he will walk them alone to reach home. He would like to delay that, so he smiles and says "thank you"; he drinks.
"Bit of a dull night, isn't it, boys?" she sings, inserting herself between them on the sofa, the warm, soft curves of her sandwiched between their stiff suits, "New Year's Eve - we'll have a party, won't we, darling?"
The implication that they will share that day, as they have shared the last two makes Sinclair's stomach grow warm, in a way alcohol has not yet accomplished. She is a dangerous woman.
"Anything you like, Delia."
"Oh god, Archie," she shrieks, turning her face to hide it in his collar, "Don't call me that."
Jon shifts uncomfortably beside them, "So, Cordelia - "
"You never did tell me why you came back - if not for the holidays - "
He feels Archie's eyes grow sharp. He can't remember why he asked that question. He can't believe he did.
Cordelia straightens in her seat, her spine snapping into place. She smiles, all teeth, her mouth curving, wolvish and sly, "Business, darling."
The way she says it makes a chill settle into his back; the warmth she giveth and she taketh away, cruel mistress. He reaches for the decanter again.
When he finally gathers himself up to leave, Cordelia is half asleep, her head on Archie's shoulder and one hand tucked against his chest. They look like little children, fallen asleep waiting for their parent's at someone else's party. They look innocent, the poor darlings. (He knows better; walk by a prison at night and you'd think everyone in there was a saint.)
As he walks, he thinks of Cordelia and her furs, her wide toothed smile. The girl is a gun, he decides.
Now, they're in for it.