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In the Wings
by Amanda Berendt
Copyright November 2003

    The sun shone brightly in the mid-afternoon sky glittering on the light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. Geometric patterns formed by the dark shadows of the bare tree branches danced along the ground. Natalie stood alone, clutching her wool trench coat around her body as the winter wind tousled her chestnut curls.
    It had been so strange these past few months without Nick. She wasn't really sad anymore, but she had always expected him to be there. Things had been hard at first, but as the days and weeks passed it had gotten better. The cooler weather had come and the leaves had changed to a glorious display of reds, oranges and yellows. It made her think of a spectacular sunburst.
    Then the first snows of winter had come in November, covering the city in a blanket of white. It had been her first Christmas alone in several years. She had graciously declined invitations from Richard and his family, as well as the Schankes and had spent the evening alone curled up on the sofa in front of a blazing fire with Sidney sleeping on her lap.

There's a frost in the air
Summer doesn't want to play
They've taken down the fair
And the leaves have all blown away

    She thought back to the all too brief time they had had together. It had been only a few years, but the memories were plentiful. It was just over a year ago when she and Nick had finally realized their goal. Nick had become human. It had been a combination of several ideas that she had perfected after the failure of the lytoveuterine.
    He had proposed to her on the lakeshore on Christmas Eve. It had been a beautifully clear night with countless stars sparkling over the water. The ground was covered with a crystalline layer of snow. They sat together on one of the benches as he handed her a present. She opened the small box to reveal a lovely pair of hand sewn leather gloves. She smiled as Nick took the left glove and helped her put it on. The sheepskin lining felt soft and warm against her cold hands.
    She gasped when she felt something metal slip over her ring finger. Looking up at Nick, she saw him smiling broadly as he finished pulling the glove on.
    "Natalie Lambert, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
    Tears of joy streamed down her cheeks as she nodded yes before embracing him. The couple sat there staring out at the lake, holding each other against the cold knowing there was nothing left to keep them apart.

They say everything must die
For a new life to begin
In the season of our love
I feel the winter setting in

    Nick and Natalie were married on Valentine's Day. The ceremony and the reception were held at Casa Loma - the closest thing to a real castle that Toronto had to offer. The unseasonably warm afternoon allowed the couple to wander through the gardens and pose for their photos without the need of heavy coats. Natalie's dress practically glowed in the sunshine.
    Even the jabs from best man Schanke at Nick about it taking so long for him to marry Natalie couldn't penetrate the glow of happiness that surrounded the newlyweds as they started their new life together. The day was so full of promise. They looked towards a bright and shining future and believed that whatever came to meet them - good or bad - they would face together.

Through this bitter, bitter cold I though I'd always
have you to hold me Through the storm
and keep me warm Through this bitter, bitter cold

    The new couple honeymooned in Belgium at Natalie's request. She had insisted that Nick take her to his home in Brabant. When they reached the estate, they found that it was in ruins. At first Natalie had been disappointed, but Nick had begun climbing over the stones and explaining what had been where and how he had lived.
    Watching him, as the sun highlighted the gold in his sandy hair and his broad smile lit up his face and put a sparkle in his eyes, it was as if eight centuries faded away.    She could easily picture him as a young man riding through these fields.
    When it was finally time to return home, neither wanted to leave this idyllic life. Nick promised he would look into the possibility of the Foundation purchasing the land and rebuilding the estate as part of a historic trust. They left with the idea that someday they would be able to return to see the estate in all it's splendor.

The sun has kissed your face
Your tears in my hair
You say it's time to go my friend
You feel it in the air

    Upon their return to Toronto, she and Nick had begun to look for a house. Nick had been the first to raise the issue of children. After waiting for so long, he had said he wanted as many as she was willing to give him. She had laughed at the thought of several children climbing all over Nick.
    After several weeks of looking, they found a nice brick house in a quiet neighborhood just outside of the city. It had a nice yard with a fence - perfect for a new family.    Everything was falling into place.
    The summer had come early. It was unusually hot and humid. The heat was affecting Natalie very badly. She was sweating constantly and she was finding that almost any kind of food was making her nauseous.
    It was a mid June evening and Natalie was struggling to finish the salad Nick had fixed her before he left for his shift at the precinct. She sat in the living room watching television with all the lights off and two fans pointing at her in a vain effort to keep cool. They would have to get air conditioning installed if this heat was going to keep up.
    She had finished as much of the salad as she could and was dozing off on the couch when the doorbell rang. Glancing at the mantle clock as she crossed to the door, she saw that it was almost eleven. She opened the door to see Schanke standing there extremely disheveled.
    Before he said anything, she read the look in his eyes. "No..." she gasped.
    "Nat..." he said reaching out to her.
    "No, Schanke... don't say it.... " she said as she backed away from the door.
    Schanke stepped through he doorway and held her tight, steadying her just as her knees gave out. "Nat, I am so sorry. They tried to save him... they did all they could."
    He held onto her as she crumpled to the floor and sobbed into his shoulder. "No... not him... it's too soon..."
    She asked him to take her to the hospital to see Nick. On the way she half listened as Schanke told her what had happened. The shooter was aiming at Schanke but Nick had stepped in front of him to block the shot.  A wall had gone up around her, as if to shield her mind from any more devastation. If this had happened a mere six months ago it would have been nothing.
    Although no identification was needed, she had insisted on seeing him. Arriving at the hospital, she allowed Schanke to lead her to the morgue holding area, where bodies were held to await transport to the coroner's office. Schanke spoke to the attendant, who nodded and stepped away. Returning a few minutes later, he led them into the identification room.
    Walking into the room, it was as if she had stepped back in time. Nick lay on the steel table just has he had when he had been brought into her office that first night. The bullet had entered his chest, so his face was serene... untouched. It looked as if he were only sleeping. But unlike that night several years earlier, he would not be sitting up on the table to speak with her.
    Politely, but firmly she refused Schanke's offer to drive her home ,insisting she would be all right. She made her way to the lakeshore. The soft breeze off the water helped to ease the heat slightly. The reflection of the brilliant full moon glittered on the still water. She sat there on a bench alone for several hours, not wanting to go home to confront the reality that Nick would never be returning.

And like the moon upon the water
Gives diamonds to the sea
I pray that when the snow is gone
You'll return to me

    Natalie wiped a tear from her cheek as she watched the shadows of the branches dance across the headstone. She had chosen a beautiful sun to be carved into the stone. The January sun was bright and clear as it sparked on the white granite. Soon she wouldn't be able to visit every day, but she would come as often as she was able.

Through this bitter, bitter cold I thought I'd always
have you to hold me Through the storm
and keep me warm Through this bitter, bitter cold

    It was getting colder as the winter sun set. She kissed her gloved hand and touched it to the stone before turning away and heading back to the path that would take her back to the car. As the wind picked up, she pulled her coat as tightly around her as she could, but her swollen belly still protruded between the flaps of the coat.
    Smiling as she felt the baby kick, "Don't worry, it won't be too much longer. When you come, I'll tell you all about your daddy. It is a very long story, but we'll have the rest of our lives."
    Natalie climbed into the turquoise caddy, started the engine and drove off into the waning sun.

And if there is such a thing
As winter in the spring
Then I'll make angels
And I'll see you in the wings
Of this bitter, bitter cold...