The fire blazed steadily away. Mira regarded it with pursed lips. Her son had started it. Six hours ago. One log could not last for six hours and yet the fire showed no signs of going out.
“Is all right, mama?” Her boy tugged at the skirt she wore. He could sense her concern, so she smiled down at him, trying to relax and send soothing emotions his way.
She’d always known that he could read her feelings. It was impossible to miss a newborn infant responding to every change in the mood of his exhausted, weepy, erratic mother. That had been a nightmare at first, but she’d learned how to cope. And she’d learn how to cope with this, too.
Maybe it was good news, not bad? She’d certainly save on the heating bills. But the townsfolk were already regarding Corin warily. If word of this got out…
“Is very all right, my boy,” Mira said. “Why don’t you put it out for now, though?”
“Put out?” His nose wrinkled and he stared at the fire dubiously. “How dat?”
“Make it stop?” she suggested.
He looked up at her, eyes wide in appeal. “How dat?”
Mira took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Oh, dear. She crouched next to him, trying to let the tension drop out of her shoulders. Keeping her voice calm, she said, “How did you start it, love?”
His lower lip slid out. “I cold. I say no cold no more.”
“Can you maybe say no hot no more now?”
The fire hadn’t actually made it hot in their small room, merely cozy. The weather was brutal, the depths of midwinter, and although the building in which they lived was well-built and insulated, the radiant heating system couldn’t keep up with the bitter cold seeping in from the outside.
“Not hot,” Corin replied simply.
Mira bit her own lower lip. She couldn’t argue with that. But they needed to go out and they couldn’t leave a fire burning while they did, not even a very neat, decorous fire that stayed perfectly attached to a single log. “We need to go to the shop now, so we won’t be here to appreciate it.”
“Shop?” Corin perked up. “Food shop or mama shop?”
A corner of Mira’s mouth curled up. Corin had only lately discovered certain of the pleasures of the market. The colorful row of jars of sweets behind the counter had been pure scenery to him until Melanie, the shopkeeper, had offered him a peppermint stick on his third birthday a few weeks ago.
“Put out the fire,” she said, “And we’ll go to both. And yes, you may pick out a new sweet to try if you like.”
Corin patted his hands together, looking for a moment like a wise old man, hidden inside a rounded toddler body. “Sweets,” he said with glowing contentment. “Sweets.”
It was like the ceiling opened up and rain—a rain made of small, hard, solid objects—began pouring in. Mira yelped at the first impact on her shoulder, and lurched forward, instinctively sheltering Corin with her own body as candy pattered down around them, a flood of sugar filling the room, piling up in hills and mounds.
“Enough sweets, Corin.” Mira gasped through the avalanche, trying to shield Corin from the storm. “Enough.”
“Enough,” he agreed. “Enough!”
With a few last taps and clicks and rattles, the sweets stopped arriving.
Mira scooped Corin up, clutching him to her as she straightened. Her gaze skimmed the room. Peppermint sticks, lemon drops, licorice balls, butterscotch rounds, caramels, lollipops—every kind of candy she had ever seen and dozens more that she didn’t recognize—covered every surface.
“Sweets,” Corin said with breathless awe.
“Sweets,” Mira agreed. She sat down with a thump on an entirely lumpy and uncomfortable chair, hearing the crack of a peppermint stick or two breaking underneath her. Corin wiggled in her arms but she tightened her grasp.
“Eat sweets?” Corin asked.
A laugh caught in Mira’s throat, turning into a choking cough. They could eat sweets until their teeth rotted out of their heads, until they had to be rolled down the street, and they’d not finish this quantity. There had to be thousands of them.
The good news, she supposed, was that the flood appeared to have doused the fire. The fireplace was as filled with sugar as the rest of the room.
“Mira?” The voice was muffled but the pounding on the door was not. Marcus, her next-door neighbor. He must have heard the noise. Well, it would have been hard to miss the sounds of pounds and pounds of candy falling out of the sky. “Mira? Are you all right? What’s happened? What was that?”
Mira felt her eyes filling with tears, burning as she fought to hold them in. There was no way of hiding this. No way to brush it off, to lightly say, “Oh, yes, Corin’s a bright boy. Observant, you know.” No way to provide a natural explanation for a room full of candy, the way she could for a boy who met anger with anger, joy with joy.
“Mama?” He was catching her feelings, his own face contorting into grief, his eyes shimmering with their own moisture. He began to weep, the tears spilling over.
She stroked his soft hair, breathing in the scent of him, bowing her head into his, trying to center herself, trying to remind herself of the one important thing, the only important thing—how much she loved him, the contentment of seeing him sleep, the wonders of watching him laugh, how his very presence filled her with joy. His body, so soft and sturdy, relaxed into hers, as he gave a gasping sigh of relief.
“Mira! Answer me! Do you need help?” Marcus demanded. “Open this door!”
“We’re all right,” Mira called out in response, rubbing Corin’s back. “It wasn’t… it was…” What in the world could she say? “We’re all right,” she repeated helplessly.