(What the snap dragon looked like aflame – though taking a pic at night is difficult….)
Stopping just shy of requiring a blood oath, Abraham finally agreed not to seek out our unknown curious Errant on his own, so long as I promised to keep him in the loop.
Parting ways, my mind raced to fold in this new wrinkle.… My hunt for Big Ben is on autopilot at the moment unless I suck it up and ask Uncle for help….I’m knocking out my visit to Nevermore tonight, though Wood doesn’t know it yet. I’m unsealing Ira’s envelope after forty winks….So visiting the Genesis Points of Rye’s Errants seems feasible….I can fit a few drop-bys during my FLYT shifts if I’m careful…
Wood: “Morticia, you’ll never guess who I found wandering by…”
Me (wide-eyed): “Sarah!”
Wood: “Ah, you guessed.”
Me (laughing): “She’s sitting at the table, you dolt.”
Sarah (staring down at the table): “Hey Phoebe. Wood said you guys were out here moon bathing.”
Me (stepping next to a seated Wood): “Yup, you should join us!”
Sarah: “Isn’t the Lavender Lady’s backyard more convenient?”
Sarah’s curtly delivered question arrested my forward momentum. Leaving my knee leaning against the table edge and my sneaker planted on the seat next to Wood. Sarah, who was quickly denuding the plaid blanket of its pills, misses the quick shrug Wood gave me.
Me (slowly): “It is. However, it also has Ms. Hettie, who’s proven to have a low threshold for late-night frivolity.”
Sarah (pressing): “But why here? Why Remembrance Park?”
Me (trying to fathom her driving tone): “Have you ever heard of the Grey Man?”
Sarah (nodding): “Yes…”
Me: “Well, apparently he’s been spotted skulking around here several times over the years. Which makes sense since he used to live two streets over. Anyways, I thought I’d break in the spirit board Laney stitched for me and try contacting Wynter in a place he’s known to semi-frequent.”
Sarah (pushing): “Then why were you hanging out in the gazebo?”
Wood (unruffled): “Morticia was giving me some privacy while I face-timed Laney.”
Sarah (looking up finally): “Oh. So you guys really are just Moon Bathing?”
Words along the lines of – ‘What do you think we were doing?’ – died in my throat in response to a surreptitious squeeze of my sneaker. Snapping my mouth firmly closed, Wood picked up the conversational baton and did what he does best – putting people at ease.
Letting their voices buzz in my ears like so many bees, I took a good long look at Sarah. Dark rings hung low under her eyes, her blouse appeared more voluminous than usual, and her nails were bitten nearly to the quick.
She looked terrible.
Continuing to woolgather on how to get Sarah to eat a good meal, my eyes wandered restlessly onto the canvas tote sitting next to her. Slumped open, the distinct letterhead of Nevermore at the top of a wad of documents caught my eye. Followed by a couple of thick purple rebranding binders I’d last spied in Little Ben’s office.
Sarah, noticing the direction of my gaze, slipped the bag under the table.
Wood (calling my attention back to the table): “Morticia, Laney is dying to try out the spirit board. But has an early meeting, so she asked if we could postpone the reading until she got home. I told her you’d be okay with it.”
Me (laughing): “I don’t know, can you handle both of us having that much fun?”
Wood (grinning): “I’ll start cross-training immediately.”
Me (pointing at the hamper): “Sarah why don’t you make a plate while I set up our other entertainment, we’ve still got plenty of everything.”
Sarah, who’d downshifted from denuding the blanket to merely tracing the pattern with her index finger, hesitated just long enough in following my suggestion that Wood took the reins. Leaving him to it, I moved to the other end of the table and begun prepping my parlor game provisions.
Wood (offhanded): “Little Ben must be losing his marbles at KARB’s coverage of the protesters inside Nevermore.”
Sarah (after swallowing a massive bite of meatloaf sandwich): “You’ve no idea. Today, after His Highness heard KARB’s noon news break, he cussed out the radio for twenty minutes then stomped around for the rest of the day.”
Wood (dishing up a small bowl of chili): “Why?”
Sarah (pausing between bites): “Rye’s Garden Club and the University’s Botanical department publicly condemned his proposed expansion. I’m not looking forward to working with him after his meeting with the Aarti and Talia.”
Me (debating with myself while sprinkling raisins into the shallow dish): “Leave a steamed milk on his desk next to a jelly doughnut, that usually calms him down. Cherry’s is his favorite, but raspberry works as well. Both need to come from The Alter.”
Sarah (meeting my gaze for the first time): “Thanks, I’ll try that…”
Me (lighting a wooden match and carefully setting the apple brandy aflame): “Now have either of you ever played snapdragon?”
Between the brilliant blue flames leaping from the dish, the heart-pounding thrill of dipping our fingers into the blaze, and eating raisins still alight, Sarah’s unease burned away. Allowing the three of us to laugh easily in the pale moonlight.