Autumn, Part Two
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The Harvest Mixer's roots were antique in Solstice. Since the late eighteen hundreds, the town had celebrated in one manner or another the season of brightly colored endings, breaking only long enough for an inconvenient period in the forties during which electricity needed to be conserved.
Solstice had been a farming town still, back then; and the chance to spend an evening in drink and relaxation was a rare enough event. When it started back up again, the flavor had changed, with grey flannel suits or homecoming heroes' uniforms standing in place of the faded Sunday best of weather-beaten men and women.
Yet the title persisted, even as the harvests changed.
Mayor Long juggled the community schedule like a circus acrobat, planning far enough in advance to ensure the moon would be full or nearly on the night of his Mixer. Tonight the moon hung as orange as a rotting peach on the vine, close to the horizon in the darkness of middle evening. Glancing through the curtains of the old town hall, he smiled in silent thanks for another perfect evening.
"Mayor," came the next of innumerable calls on his attention. He turned politely, his smile widening as he regarded Jorge and Mary Patron. The two seemed eternally combined, a pair of vines grown inseparable from the same nut-brown soil, though the lines on his face spoke of laughter while those on hers seemed formed of cares unspoken.
"Jorge! Mary." He took the man's hand and nodded politely to the man's wife. "It's so good of you to come."
"I shouldn't miss it, my old friend, shouldn't miss it for the world." Jorge lifted his glass and tilted his head. "You have ever thrown such magnificent feasts. Princely, is the word for it."
Long smiled indulgently and returned the toast with his mineral water. "And may you continue to be an essential part of them all. How is the restaurant?"
"Fine, fine. A world of good has come to our lives, eh, Maria?" He poked his wife's ribs playfully, though it brought no real reaction.
"It's well, thank you," she agreed. "Is Rosa still suiting you?"
"Your cousin," said Long gravely, "is still the finest nanny I could hope for. Arthur and Reagan adore her."
"She's a good girl," said Jorge. "I'm glad she's earning her keep. Are the children nearby?"
"You'll find them down the stairs, I think. Arthur's interested in magic tricks now, so keep an eye on your watch and don't let him monopolize you."
"Bah! I'll pull scarves and pennies from his ears until his head is as empty as my own," chuckled Jorge. "We'll speak again soon, eh? Which one do I talk to about scheduling a meeting with you these days?"
"Keely. Dark hair down past her shoulders, I think she's wearing a flower tonight. You'll know her when you see her."
"He'd better not," said Mary, bringing another laugh.
"He said I'd know her, my love, my heart, my one and own, not recognize her. I've not laid eyes or hands on a woman since the day you stole my eyes."
"Good. Then I'll make the arrangements for your schedule. He doesn't keep the calendar anyway," she said, and there was finally the hint of a smile in her eyes.
"You'll know her just as well."
"I imagine she's hard to miss." The smile turned wry. "I'll catch you with the children, Jorge."
"Anon, my love, anon." Blowing kisses from his fingertips, he turned to the stairs.
"That man," she sighed. "I don't know how you put up with him."
"I don't live with him, which makes it easier."
"That's a fair point. A flower, you say?"
"Good. I'll see to it, then."
She walked off, stiffer-legged than Long recalled. Mary had ever been an enigma to him - he left her alone, for the most part, after a brief but intense scrutiny once Jorge brought her home. She'd shown no signs of awakening or of even being asleep, and he was content to keep his mistrust to a minimum regarding the older man, whatever had passed in the days before.
He took in the room, considering each individual in order but looking for a few specific faces which he found quickly enough. Kim Soon and Stephanie MacIntyre stood against the wall near the coat racks, both having influenced the other in the half-year of their acquaintance - Soon laughing and smiling with less guard in her face, MacIntyre dressed in a severe but stylish pantsuit as opposed to the uniform she had never removed in years past. The two remained focused on one another at the moment, but that was fine - there was no good reason to draw attention to them, yet.
Corbin Byrne lounged easily in one of the overstuffed chairs, reaching for a phyllo-dough pastry with one hand and using the other to illustrate whatever story he spun for the small knot of guests who had congregated about him. As always, he seemed to know when attention was focused his way; and with that gift he glanced in Long's direction and threw a wink just subtle enough to go unnoticed by the crowd, just blatant enough to be a minor irritant to his employer.
And entering the room, Victoria Monroe, her mop of dark hair bleached along the ends, mascara painted around the eyes in a sleepless mask that highlighted the faux-diamond nose ring; making an entrance out of not making an entrance, her eyes buried in a cell phone screen and thumbs dancing casually across its surface.
Perfect, thought Long with a smile. Absolutely perfect.
Her father followed, his bulk looming in the doorway as he, too, scanned the room - but Long had already shifted his glance, keeping his attention divided amongst other guests he had less business with this night. The long-faced server who first arrived held out a tray of small sandwiches, was refused, and turned his attention to the daughter.
"No thanks," she said easily, not glancing up.
"Of course. Catch us if you need anything at all."
"No, thanks," said Mike, his voice dropping a note. "She's eaten."
The waiter glanced between them, pushed the glasses up his nose, and smiled. "Of course. If there's anything you need, sir ..."
"I'm fine." Mike hated this place, hated these functions. He would have been more than happy to pass it all over and spend the day fishing, but Vicky's newest boyfriend would have come sniffing around the door sooner rather than later. As it was, he didn't have any patience with anyone coming too close to either of them. He wanted nothing more than to put in his appearance, have a beer, then head home where he could turn on John Wayne and listen for sounds of young men in the bushes.
"Good evening, Sergeant." Mayor Long came around the side with a smile, calling out well before he had arrived but not so loud as to attract attention. "I'm glad you were able to come."
"Thanks," said Mike, and took the offered hand for a brief shake. "It's good to be home."
"I'm glad to hear it. Can we get you a drink?"
"Yeah ... Coors?"
"Bud or Miller."
"Come on to the bar," said Long with a smile. "I was hoping to get a word with you before the papers showed up anyway."
"They'll have a photographer here, but Corbin tells me you'd prefer to avoid any speeches and such. That's fine by me, but I'm assuming it also means you'd rather not have to smile for the camera while I'm shaking your hand."
"Well, you're right," said Mike, but he laughed softly while he said it. "Doesn't bother you?"
Long shrugged. "I'd rather have the photo, sure. It's good publicity to welcome soldiers home and the elections are never far away, but I don't like telling anyone who doesn't work for me what to do - and you work for someone higher up the food chain than me." He showed his teeth in a wide smile. "Commander in chief isn't one of my titles yet."
Mike's eyebrow went up. "You running for state?"
"I think about it from time to time, but Mayor of Solstice suits me right now. Miller, please, and - what's the orange label there?"
"Oberon Harvest ale, Mr. Long."
"One of those for me." He handed the golden bottle to Mike. "As I say, I'd love to have the photo, but I can respect wanting to stay out of the limelight. Really, I hoped to be able to say thank you in person." He held up the bottle, and with little else to say, Mike struck the neck with his own bottle. They each took a sip before turning to regard the crowd, and knowing few others - as Long had expected - Michael Monroe, also known as Mars, began making small talk.
"... so other than that, it's pretty much the same." Mike shook his head at the proffered new bottle. "No. No, thanks, two's my limit when I'm driving."
"That's a good standard to go by," said Long casually, "but I've offered free taxi service tonight. After all, we've had some bad accidents on the roads lately."
The hand tensed just enough, and Long rejoiced inwardly.
Leverage, he thought, and exulted in the word.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009