Summer, Part Four
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The world raced past, a blur of green leaves, blue sky, yellow petals, crimson smears of ripe berries burst against the trail. His eyes followed every movement, the twitch of each leaf in the wind, the branches which shuddered beneath the weight of a scolding squirrel, the flash of paint on a car as he passed a parking lot near the bicycle trail.
Mars was fully aware, fully awake. The weight on his back was a fishing rod, not a scabbard, not a rifle. The sounds around him were of nature, pure and clear, not of battle, not of screams. He had nobody to fight for - his wife had left, he'd sent his daughter away. He'd left the Marines, his second family, the place he'd felt most at home. The place he had been born to.
Sending Vickie away had been for the best. Being alone was for the best, for now. He couldn't think of trying to go back to barracks life, trying to fit in shoulder to shoulder with all the humans who would surround him. Trying to fit in anywhere at all.
He pulled to a stop outside the park entrance, looking around the lot. Keely stood in the distance, leaning against a hybrid car which gleamed green in the sunlight. Her long, nut-brown legs stood out against the paint job, though he thought they'd stand out anywhere. Reflex made him suck in his stomach even as he was aware of how stupid it looked, walking the bicycle over to her.
"Hello, Michael," she smiled. "I'm glad you finally called."
"I'm not sure why I didn't earlier," he said.
"Oh, I think I do. You don't like being helped. You never have, have you?"
"It's not exactly something I was born to."
She laughed at that. "You've got a good memory and a smart mouth."
"No. No, I don't like being helped and I like needing help even less, but here we are."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's all the opposite." She waved one hand languidly, watching as some unfelt breeze rustled the ornamental bushes to her left. "You're better now than you ever were."
"I don't know about that."
"You're more than human ... Mars. You're better than human."
"See, that's the kind of talk that makes me think you're not so helpful."
"I'm nothing but," she said, turning to the hatchback of her car. As it opened, she brought out a wicker basket in one arm and a paper bag in the other. "I have lunch, at any rate. Liberate a picnic table for us, would you?"
He walked the bicycle to a wooden table in the shade, checking briefly for wasp's nests in the cracks, looking overhead in the trees for the same.
"This one's fine," she brushed gently past him, smelling of petals and honey as she laid out roast chicken wrapped in butcher's paper along with a large garden salad. "We won't be bothered unless Jorge comes by looking for the Mayor."
Mars looked to the lot. "Long's here?"
"No. He and Jorge play chess sometimes at lunch but today he's got scheduling conflicts, and they're pretty clear with one another about when and where they play." She laid silverware wrapped in red-and-white checkered napkins to either side of two bamboo plates, then a small vase with a single brilliant flower in it.
"You make a pretty big deal out of lunch, don't you?"
"Why not surround yourself with nice things? It's better than driving through KFC and tossing the bucket to you." She sat down, smiling, and handed him a bottle of iced tea. "Now take the fishing pole off your back and sit. We've got some catching up to do."
He sat, reaching for a drumstick while ignoring the tea. "I'm not going to ask if this is all real, or if I'm crazy, or anything like that. Do you do this to many people?"
"I wake enough up." She touched the flower gently. "It's a part of my line of work, really. Some of us are better at it than others. I'm not the best in town and I'm not the best town's ever had, but it serves me well enough."
"So how do you choose who to ... wake up?"
"How do you know when a plum's ripe?" She smiled again, showing perfect teeth between delicately painted lips. "I don't always know. It just starts to feel right around some people."
"Are there many others?"
"In Solstice? Yes, enough. I haven't seen many outside of town, though; and I've never woken one up outside the city limits."
He finished off the chicken leg, watching her. "So there's something about this place, then. Something special."
"I think so, yes. Ask someone else and you might get a different answer. I don't think anyone actually knows - it's like asking a mortal if they believe in the afterlife."
"Yeah, about that ..."
"You're not immortal."
"We're not. You're going to age just like every other human on the planet. You might get sick, you might break bones, you're eventually going to die. The sooner you come to terms with that the easier the whole thing gets. If you don't like tea, I have water."
"I'm fine. I don't drink while I eat, that's all."
"So don't go thinking you can get stupid or daring. At least, no more daring than you were before."
"So who are they?" Her laughter was infectious. "No go, huh?"
"I'm not going to give you a laundry list, no. You know me already."
"By way of Hawaii, the way I remember it."
"So what's your name?"
"My name is Keely, because you all sound ridiculous trying to pronounce Hina Puku'ai."
"Okay ... Keely. I figure Long's got to be in the mix."
"Sure. I don't think he'd be Mayor long if he weren't, but honestly, I have no idea who or what he was and I'm not about to ask him."
"It's none of my business. If someone was important to my old life I think I'd know it - the same way you knew you were born to be a soldier. Nobody in Solstice does much to me, or around me ... so I return the favor."
"You work for him, though."
"And he knows me."
He stared hard at her, incredulous. "And that doesn't bother you?"
"Mars, what am I going to do if it upset me? Quit my job, leave Solstice?" She shook her head. "I don't try to figure him out because I don't much care. I like it here and working in his office has its perks. Do you think most admins could take a beautiful summer afternoon off without any explanation?"
He shook his head. "I couldn't do that."
"I don't have your control issues."
They locked eyes a moment, his burning and hers amused. "That's ... fair."
"I think so. For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry I don't know more about him on your behalf."
"Not sorry enough to give me that laundry list."
"No. I'm happy enough to help you adjust and get used to the idea of being who you are, because I sure could have used a friendly face those first couple of months and I don't like the idea of the god of war getting annoyed with the whole town in general."
"Or a few people in specific?"
"Anyone in mind?"
"More than a few."
"No, probably not. You'll figure it out for yourself as you get more and more accustomed to this new life and I'd rather not be blamed for setting you on anybody's tail."
"You were a goddess. And now you're happy taking dictation from something you don't know the first thing about?"
She returned the stare, all the humor gone from her face. "I didn't say I was happy, and I don't like the pun." Silence reigned a few moments, then she sighed. "I'm no superhero, Mars. None of us are. We're secretaries, teachers, sergeants and bankers. We own restaurants or we work in them. Some of us are ambitious and some of us aren't. I'm in that second category, but I'm also the one who was willing to help you out."
He nodded, looking to his food. "You know I've got a temper."
"I do. I also know there's no reason to take it out on me."
"Don't do it again. I might not be a superhero but I'm no hothouse flower, either."
"I am sorry."
"So what else do you want to know?"
"There's nothing left of what we could do? I saw you wave when the branches started lifting."
"It's a stunt, not magic. I see the leaves start to rustle and I like waving my hands. It feels like I'm doing the kind of thing I used to do without thinking about it, and that makes me happy."
"Oh .... kay. No, I get it. I understand that."
She sipped her tea slowly. "Anything else?"
"I think I've pushed it enough for today. But I'm serious, Keely." He wiped his hands on the napkin and held one across the table. "I do appreciate your ... help."
She took his hand and shook it, smiling once more. "I'm glad. Call anytime."
"Probably will. He stood and stretched, picking up the fishing pole once more. "Any fishing gods in town?"
"If there are I don't know them. You're on your own."
He smiled, waving goodbye as he climbed onto the bicycle and set down one of the paths which led to the lake. No fishing gods, no laundry list. His suspicions about Long confirmed by someone who had no good reason to lie to him. The day was looking up for Mars. If he had nothing left to fight for, well ...
At least he had something to fight.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010