Thursday, 29 November 2012

Merry Christmas, George Bailey

When I was young, one of my favourite times of year was December.  Not only did it mean a break from school, Christmas Eve Appetizer Night, and beautiful Christmas Day surpises and celebrations, it was also the month where my family and I sat back and took in all of the old Christmas Classics.  We watched them all...Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the really old, black and white grainy one.  The one where you can see the camera guy in the reflection of the mirror in Scrooge's bedroom the morning after the ghosts visit him.  We watched All I Want for Christmas and Miracle on 34th St, but my all time favorite is the iconic story of a man named George Bailey, in It's a Wonderful Life  starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reid.

There is nothing about the movie that's hard to like, but one of my favourite scenes involves George, and a young woman named Violet Bick.  She's the fancy girl, beautiful like Marilyn Monroe, turning every head in the town except the one she'd really like - George Bailey. At this point in the movie, George Bailey is finally asking her out. 

GEORGE: Are you game, Vi? Let's make a night of it. Let's go out in the fields and take off our shoes and walk through the grass.  Then we can go up to the falls. It's beautiful up there in the moonlight, and there's a green pool up there, and we can swim in it.  Then we can climb Mount Bedford, and smell the pines, and watch the sunrise against the peaks...we'll stay up there the whole night, and everybody'll be talking and there will be a terrific scandal...

Fortunately for George, Violet turns him down.  But, I always wondered why she did.  I think I would have gone with him, scandal and all - and I'm not even what you would call "out-doorsy".  George Bailey wanted adventure, excitement, and it made me want it too.  I think that he and I would have been friends.

I don't know, maybe it's his continuous self-sacrifice for family and friends, or the lilt in his voice when he speaks. Or possibly telling Mary, as she sits naked in the bushes, that if she called the Police to make him give her back her robe, they'd be on his side anyway, that sticks itself deep in my memories. 

 Or maybe it's fond remembrances of being settled downstairs in front of our roaring wood stove, snuggled up beneath blankets and sharing an over-sized bowl of popcorn while the snow piled ever deeper outside.  Sitting all together we would boo Potter, and shout for Uncle Billy to check his newspaper, cheer Clarence and root for George. It never got old, even after we could all recite the movie practically by heart. It's the kind of memories I want to work to build with my own children, enjoying each other and remembering that each of us is so special, so important, and that we may never really understand the impact that we have on those around us.  

Well George, I'm game.  I imagine I'll be seeing you again this month, some time in the next few weeks, and I look forward to it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chapter 7 - Part A

Nicolai had moved back onto the ship before the sun had risen the day after the engagement gala.  Though the rest of the crew had observed the move with marked curiosity; only Kuri had been brave enough to ask about the sudden change of residence.  Nicolai had mumbled something about being eager to get back in the skies,  that the repairs were taking far too long.  He was feeling restricted, suffocating, the image of Atlantis Talerian mocked him.  It was everywhere; the Empress’ broken engagement falling hard and fast after the first public unveiling of the Empress since she’d been crowned  had the press in a ravenous feeding frenzy, and Nicolai was doing his best to stay out of it.  He’d read most of the articles citing reasons for the unexpected split of the happy couple, and for the most part the official word was that they had irreconcilable differences in the areas of politics, and couldn’t settle on a marriage agreement.  There had been some talk of another man coming between the Empress and Kale Farharad, but any such stories were only run in rumor magazines chalk full of conspiracy theories and gossip.  There had been some grainy pictures printed, as if they had been snapped from a great distance.  One of the figures could most likely be interpreted as the Empress, and she was with a man, or at least what probably was a man.  Nicolai was reasonably sure the picture was not of him.  So far, at the very least the press hadn’t come banging down his door, eager for an interview.  Nicolai didn’t want to talk with them anyway.  The fact that she had ended her relationship with Farharad what seemed like immediately did irk him, but he couldn’t bring himself to go back to the palace.  He didn’t want to speak with her or see her.  Her photograph staring out at him from the newspaper was enough of a reminder that he could never be with her.  No matter what any high-thinking philosopher said, royalty still married only royalty.  Besides all that he was busy and hardly needed the distractions.  He hadn’t noticed time passing, he’d only desired to fill it as much as possible, so that he wouldn’t have to think about her. 
            Nicolai liked to be involved with the hands-on preparation of the Nikao before departure, and today that meant a visit to the docks. Their departure date was imminent and Nicolai wanted to be sure everything was ready.  He was lining up a cargo allowance for the companies that were demanding the services of the Nikao as they made their way throughout the Empire.     
           They would be leaving Khal Manar for Shar Riel in the morning, and merchants with cargo had lined up at the docks trying to deposit their goods for transport.  Nicolai was trying to read the cargo manifest that had obviously been hand written by a blind monkey with only a vague literacy ability.  For the third time in an hour he promised himself he would fire whomever had written this list as soon as he discovered who it was, as he scanned it a second time, looking for the docking number on a crate of tuna.  To top it off, the tuna vendor required a translator, and Nicolai was having difficulty trying to get his meaning across.  He couldn’t load the tuna until he found that he had a prepared docking number that matched, but, it didn’t make sense for him not to have a docking number as there was both a merchant and a crate of tuna on the docks waiting for him to transport.  It was taking forever to confirm, sweat had started to bead on Nicolai’s forehead.  Khal Manar in high summer was comfortable only to people who had easy access to the water, which Nicolai did not.  Apparently the fat vendor was feeling the heat as well.  He was spouting off in his own language, obviously becoming more and more agitated with the entire situation.  So, when Kuri arrived with a message that Lady Marria, THE Lady Marria wished to have an audience with him, Nicolai was happy to hand the whole mess to Kuri and meet with Marria, he didn’t try to avoid her, as he might have before.  Kuri had her waiting in his receiving room.  
            “My Lady, this is an unexpected visit.” Nicolai greeted her with a respectful bow. “May I offer you something to drink?” He asked.
            “No, thank you.” Marria declined, rigidly sitting on the seat he offered with his hand.
            “I appreciate all of the help from the palace work crews.  Without them I don’t know that the Nikao would have ever flown again, but she’s looking pretty good from where I sit now.  Nearly good as new, we’ve been out on a few test runs, but tomorrow we’ll really extend those new engine couplings and go all the way to Shar Riel.” Nicolai informed his guest.  He didn’t know what she wanted, or what warranted this visit, but as he laid eyes on her, he wanted her to leave.
            “So, you will be leaving tomorrow?” Marria asked.
            “Yes, we leave port at 6am.  It’s a long way to Shar Riel.” Nicolai sank into his own chair and folded his hands on his desk top.
            “Captain, forgive me for intruding on you under the pretense of business, but this is a personal visit.”  Marria clutched her hands in her lap, Nicolai wondered if it was to keep them from shaking.
            “Oh?” Nicolai asked, raising his eyebrows in question.  He glanced at the two guards stationed just beyond his door.
            “The Empress doesn’t know that I’m here.  She believes that it is necessary to suffer her loss in silence, and to let what she had slip away with no hope to the contrary.  She is either too proud, too stubborn or to afraid to speak to you, and so I am here to speak with you.” Marria said pointedly.  Surprisingly, her words didn’t catch Nicolai off guard.  He believed the earnest gaze on Marria’s face that she was acting of her own volition, but in the grand scheme of things it hardly mattered.
            “I believe you are referring to my relationship with the Empress.” Nicolai said, after a while.  He watched her straighten the turquoise scarf she was wearing, and sit up in the chair.
            “Yes, I am.”
            “With all due respect, my Lady, I don’t know what Laina...the Empress told you about what happened but, I don’t think that it’s something easily put back together.” Nicolai spoke slowly, trying to use an appropriate turn of phrase.
            “She told me that she lied to you.  That she didn’t want to tell you the truth and wanted the lie to last as long as possible. Regardless of that She told me that she loved you, as she’d never loved anyone else before.  She wants to run after you, Captain, but the restraints of her station don’t allow her that freedom.” Marria said emphatically.
            “That’s just it, my Lady.  The restraints of her station are enormous.  I don’t believe that I actually got to know her.  I feel like the whole thing was just a lie.  I’m not sure what she hoped to gain from it all, but a lie never-the-less.” The words tasted like acid on his tongue.  He hated feeling like he’d been used, all of the feelings he’d put before her only a game.
            “She loves you.  That’s not a lie.”
            “So, I am the reason that she called off her engagement?” The words tumbled out quickly, but they’d been burning inside Nicolai ever since he’d seen the first headline.  The pause on Marria’s face was answer enough.  Anger built in Nicolai’s chest, he clenched his jaw and willed himself to remain polite.
            “I wish it was that simple, Captain, but it’s not.  Let my Lady explain herself to you.  Perhaps there would be a method of repairing this.” Marria pleaded. 
            “She wasn’t willing to end her relationship with Kale Farharad to be with me.  It’s as simple as that.  So, by some fortuitous chance she is now free of him and she is afraid of being alone.  I understand that completely.” It was hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I’m not royalty, my Lady.  In fact, far from it.  Even if she wanted to marry me, there would be no guarantee.  I never intended to have to ask permission from a council who would practically have to pass a new law to allow the current leader to marry a commoner.  I can’t wait around for that.” Nicolai replied dismissively.  He was anxious to have the Lady Marria on her way.  Out of his way.  He didn’t need to be reminded that Atlantis was alone now.  The truth of it was, how was he supposed to relate to an Empress? The most powerful woman on the planet; he knew that there had to be some sort of special protocol that he’d already decimated.  Beyond that, it would be strange now, getting used to her one way then having to do it again with all of the ceremony that was expected, and Nicolai was irritated.  Marria was quiet, she was staring at her hands.  Nicolai shifted uncomfortably, perhaps he’d spoken to harshly.
            “Captain, I see that you are very busy and that you have a lot to do.  I can see now that what happened between you and my Lady was even deeper than what I imagined.  I can see that what you need is a lot more time.” Marria got to her feet.  “Thank you for your time, Captain.” She said quietly.  Nicolai’s polite but sharp response was cut short by the rumble of an explosion in the distance.  He paused, glancing toward the window.
            “What was that?” Marria asked quickly, turning toward the window.  Black smoke billowed up into the bright morning sky. The breath caught in her throat in a gasp. “That looks like the palace.” The first explosion was followed quickly by a second one, then a third.  A cry of desperation escaped from Marria, as she hurried toward the door.  Nicolai called after her, following her out of the ship.  The explosions were increasing one after another.  He couldn’t tell how much damage they were doing, but chaos had ensued.  Black smoke poured from the corners of the city that had been hit, but from what he could tell the majority of the smoke came from the palace.  His heart climbed into his throat, and on impulse ran toward it.  He didn’t get far, he was following Marria, flanked by frantic guards as she weaved her way through a panicked crowd.  Another explosion was close, deafening, it exploded almost in front of him, throwing him backward.  He lost consciousness for a minute, maybe two, but when he opened his eyes to a harried ringing in his ears, he squinted toward the blast.  Beneath a scattering of rubble, he caught a glimpse of a turquoise shall, the one Marria had been wearing.  He inched forward a short distance, and from behind a pile of rubble, he could see a hand, outstretched, spattered with blood and still. Nicolai called out for Marria.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Little Things

I had one of those, I'm-mad-at-the-stupid-world days yesterday. Nothing seemed to go right, from start to finish, and to top it off I had to tutor some of my students.  Actually it was the last night I would be tutoring them. So, I raced home, threw dinner somewhere in the direction of the kitchen, ran around trying to get the computer to link to the printer to print some worksheets for the night.  Dodge my daughter, who was doing what I wanted to do - cry while she wrapped herself around my legs, and at the same time reply to texts, phone calls and not stress out that my husband wasn't home on time. The fact that when I told my four year old that this was my last night of tutoring, and I wouldn't be going any more, he said "That's ok, Mommy you can keep going. I like staying at home with Daddy when you're not there" didn't help. I was snippy, rude, a poor form of cranky, all day, and by the time I arrived to tutor the kids, screaming-crazy-upset-almost-to-the-point-of-road-ragin'-tears all due to what Edmontonians like to call "a bit of traffic."

I calmed down, gulping large breaths of air as I headed for the first house on the block - debating whether or not I should toss myself in a snowbank to cool down. Deciding it was better to arrive flushed than pasted with snow, I settled into tutoring, and saying goodbye and all of those kinds of things - but something happened at the house of my last student.   

A few weeks ago, when I decided that it would be best to cut back my hours, I wanted to give each of the students a small parting gift.  The boys I tutor were easy - a card game that we often played together and they enjoyed seemed to fit. But, the girl was a little harder.  She's a sweet, quiet sort, the kind that you get to know by watching, rather than talking to - the kind that takes a while to get to know.  I had been tutoring her for around six months, and still only knew that she might like a book.  So, as I scoured the shelves of Coles, I breathed a small prayer for help. Not the kind you expect an answer too, just the kind that helps calm you down to focus. It took a bit of time, and I mused over several titles in the young adult fiction section - but eventually rejected all of those because I just couldn't give her a book with a subject that fundamentally I didn't agree with.  Finally, I settled on one that seemed to jump off the shelf at me.  "The Princess Bride," I remember grabbing the book, showing my husband and saying, "I didn't know this was a book," and thinking that it MIGHT work for my student. the very end of our evening, I reached into my bag, giving some lame line about how nice it was to tutor her - the kind that always come out cheesy when you want to say something sincere to someone, and handed her the book.  Her usually placid eyes sparked like fireworks, and her face lit into a smile. "I have been wanting this book for sooooo long!" She exclaimed over it, and shrieked over it, and generally made the biggest fuss I have seen anyone, not to mention this quiet, unassuming girl, over a book.  I had been aiming for a simple "Thanks," and with that, I would have gone home satisfied, but she bubbled about it over and over and over, clutched it to her chest with excitement like she'd never let it go.  When her Mom came into the room, she thrust it at her. Her Mom looked at me and said, "How did you know?" 

I didn't know. I couldn't have known - and it struck me, as I stepped onto the snowy walk, back to my cold van, that coincidence couldn't explain it. God put that book into my hands, for that girl. That's how much he loves me.  Enough to make me feel good about being a blessing to someone else, particularly on a day where I wasn't really being stellar at "showing" Christ to the people around me. It occurred to me that God who cares about the little things, has all of the big things in his hands.  There's so much garbage out there that wants to draw me in to worry and fear and upset, but God has a better way.  He cares about the smallest details, and he's working even when we don't know it - he's taken care of the things we haven't even thought about yet.

So, like my Dad always used to say to me, "Walk with the King today, and be a blessing."

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Chapter 6 - Part C

Atlantis pulled her groggy head up off of her pillow.  The sun was shining brightly in her chambers leaving her thoughts clouded and murky.  Eventually she’d slept better than she expected, and Marria had let her sleep in.  Whenever something happened outside of regular routine, Marria clung religiously to a crazy theory she’d developed about Atlantis’ productivity levels and the amount of sleep she’d had.  As Atlantis pulled on a light blue robe, she caught her reflection in the mirror.  It struck her how normal she looked.  She looked bright, and even fresh after her sleep.  Her hair was barely mussed and her night gown was still soft and barely creased in the morning sunshine.  It was as if someone had painted a stranger onto the glass of the mirror.  She let her fingers rub over the image as if she could wipe away the paint to see the real picture underneath.  Her heart broken into pieces, and Nicolai’s words crashing through her thoughts. 
            She tottered out to the small breakfast nook, where a spread of melon, strawberries and bagels awaited her.  Marria must have visited the kitchen, each one of her favourites was included.  Atlantis picked up a strawberry, bit off the end and chewed thoughtfully.  Absently she studied the garden.  It was beautiful in the morning sunlight, with no tell tale sign of the thunderstorm that had shook her chambers when she’d finally retired, except for a thin shimmering veil of dew soaking into the grass and sparkling on the leaves.  Atlantis poured herself a cup of fresh tea, and settled into the large cushions. 
            “Good morning.” Marria rounded the corner, stopping at the table. “How did you sleep?”
            Atlantis moved over to give her friend some room. “Fine, eventually.”  She poured Marria a cup of tea and set it before her.  “Did you want something to eat?”
            “No, thanks. I ate about a half an hour ago with Drey.”
            “Of course.  How is your charming husband?” Atlantis reached for a piece of melon, and another strawberry.
            “He’s just fine.  Happy to be tucked away in that old woodshed, carving away the hours.  He’s worried for you.  He said, the only problems he has in his day usually come with hiding a joint in furniture.” Marria sipped her tea, she was trying to be comfortable, to make conversation and to slowly bring life back to normal.
            “He thinks I should be a carpenter?”
            “Maybe, he thinks it would bring you less stress.”
            “I’d likely slice off one of my hands, then where would we be?” Atlantis tried to joke, but Marria only smiled, mostly in pity.  Atlantis studied the napkin in her lap.  The winning smile she’d meant to pull off with her words hadn’t come as easily as she expected and the raw wound in her chest bled again.
            “ everything under wraps?” She asked, glancing at Marria. 
            “Yes, damage control has been my main objective over the last sixteen hours.  As far as we know, Kale was very drunk last night after you left him.  I’ve heard a few things here and there, but just gossip really; half-truths mixed with a healthy dose of precarious opinion.  No one seems to really know anything about Dawniria, and though I haven’t checked all of the morning papers yet, it seems that Nicolai Ryder has managed to keep his name clear as well.” Marria reported. “Doctors saw Dawniria late last night.  They gave her a herbal supplement to calm her and they have confirmed that she is indeed pregnant.”
            “Do you think that Kale will retaliate against her?” Atlantis asked, trying to ignore the sudden pounding tiredness behind her eyes.
            “I think it’s a distinct possibility.”
            “So do I.” Atlantis agreed quickly.
            “He wants Khal Manar, he wants the power of an Emperor, and he sees you as a way to achieve that.  Once he finds that this pregnancy has broken that hope, he may try to remove the child from the picture completely.” Marria said, gravely. 
            “Then our plan to let her leave Khal Manar is good?”
            “I think so.  She was transported from the palace last night, and is in temporary quarters.  Galen hasn’t left her side.  He’ll take good care of her.”
            “Make sure she’s protected, Marria.”
            “I will send an extra contingent of the guard.”
            “You know as well as I that Kale operated under the exact heredity laws as we do here.  If Kale has, miraculously, avoided getting any other women pregnant, this child will be his first born and his heir.” Atlantis reiterated, not for Marria’s sake, but for the hope of seeing the situation at its entirety.
            “From what I understand, Kale’s staff keeps pretty close tabs on that.  He hasn’t fathered any other children, to date.  Apparently, the reason of the slip with Dawn, was that his staff has been greatly reduced since his arrival here.”
            “Makes sense, I suppose. In a weird, twisted way.”  Atlantis shook her head.
            “How are you going to tell him?” Marria asked.
            “Formally; I know he’ll demand an explanation, but first, I actually don’t want to shame him in front of his court, and second, the last thing we need is every bounty hunter from here to Shar Riel looking for Dawniria to bring her to Kale for a price.” Atlantis shrugged it was the best she could come up with on short notice.
            “What about the people?” Her eyes searched Atlantis’ face. 
            “The truth, or as much as they need to know, I suppose.  There were tensions before the engagement party.  I can’t imagine that is a secret, not with the way the press have been digging for a story.  We’ll say those issues were irreconcilable or something to that effect.  People understand that.” Atlantis said softly.  In her mind she was playing out her imminent meeting with Kale.  She wasn’t looking forward to it.  “I’ll try to keep Nicolai out of it.”
            “It has the makings of a scandal cover up.” Marria observed.
            “Possibly, but I never slept with Nicolai Ryder.”
            “I suppose that means you didn’t get him pregnant either.” Marria cracked a smile.  Atlantis laughed briefly.
            “Not that I’m aware of.”
            “You never really mentioned that last night.  How did it go?” Marria asked softly, testing the waters to see if Atlantis was ready to talk about it yet.
            “Well, I doubt it could have gone worse.” Atlantis tried to grimace a smile, but couldn’t look up from her plate. “He accused me of lying to him, which is completely correct.  I told him I loved him, but he said he didn’t know me, and that hardly mattered anyway because I was going to be marrying Kale.  All in all, not a great conclusion.” Atlantis summed up the mountain of emotion in her simple explanation.  She still hadn’t worked through it all herself. 
            “It will hurt for a while, Lan.  Just don’t keep it all bottled up, ok?”
            “I won’t.” Atlantis smiled. “I think today would be a good day to go to the temple.”
            “Sounds good.”
Kale was trying to stare her down, the disbelief fresh on his face.  The last thing he’d expected in an audience with the Empress was for her to be rejecting him outright.  It was outrageous. Atlantis held her ground.  She tried to keep her stare as even and serious as his, all the while preparing herself for any form of verbal defense that he might offer. 
            “You really believe what Dawniria told you?” He asked, his fists clenched at his sides.
            “She has no reason to lie to me.  She is risking not only her career, but her welfare in informing me of what could be considered treason.  I do believe her.” Atlantis answered.  She could feel anger deep in the pit of her stomach burrowing up at him.  She wanted to lash out, but knew it would only spark his temper, and the two would be at war before the end of it.
            “It is not my child.”
            “What if I could assure you that it is?”
            “You can make no such assurances.” Kale answered quickly.
            “You know as well as I do Kale, the position that I am in.  Any wise ruler would do as I am doing.  If I marry you, and it turns out, as is quite likely, that this child is in fact yours, Dawniria’s child will hold the right to the throne of Khal Manar.  They may not win in a request to the court, but they will be allowed to contest the passing of the crown from me to my oldest child because I would be linked to your bloodline.  They would have rights to certain property of my estate.  Not only that, if I may remind you, your empire holds to the same standards.  If we marry, Dawniria’s child will have rights in both my empire and yours.” It was the best explanation that she had.  It was her absolute defense against him.  She wondered how far he would push, and how hard she would need to push back, but at this point, she held to absolute certainty that she and Kale Farharad would no longer be engaged by the close of this meeting.
            “You know precious little if you think that what this whore does in her spare time has anything to do with me or whom I will pass my inheritance to.” Kale snapped.
            “We are the most powerful people in our kingdoms, yet we are bound by the laws that we create in order to govern.   In fact, Kale, you know that it was this very law that protected the throne so that it be passed to you, and not rest in Donatella’s hands as widow of the crown prince.” Atlantis pointed out.
            “You really think that all of this is fooling me? I can see this as an elaborate plan right from the start, Atlantis.  You told Dawniria to seduce me, to take my attention away from you so that you could pursue your own interests in the form of a commoner.  This story of pregnancy, real or imagined is a tool for you to use to drive me from your kingdom.  It won’t be that easy, Atlantis.  I stopped a war for you, I have that in writing.”
            “I understand that the sacrifices you made on my behalf are significant.  I can assure you that my people have already begun to draw up a treaty that will heavily favor your kingdom and pay reparations for any damages lost in those negotiations.” Atlantis promised.  She refused to delve into the emotional, or in Kale’s case, the delusional.  For the most part she was praying he wanted to handle this quietly, discretely even.  There was his reputation to think of, however he had always maintained the reputation of a man who loved women, so this would barely be a scandal for him.
            “I know about the man, Atlantis; that captain.  I have for some time.  Yet, for the sake of our great nations and for your reputation I kept that quiet.  I suppose now would be the time to make him talk.” Atlantis could hear the threat lying just beneath the surface of his words waiting to strike at her. 
            “That is over.  For the sake of not embarrassing yourself, I suggest that you leave well enough alone.” Atlantis kept her voice calm and her manner dismissive, praying that he wouldn’t call her bluff.
            “Even if you refuse to admit it, you are as much a part of this as I am.” His voice was almost resigned.
            “We’re not happy, Kale.  I’m not even sure if we like one another anymore let alone love each other.  We’re different now than we were.  Maybe we should consider it a blessing that we weren’t married all those years ago.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life married and miserable, do you?” For the first time, Atlantis softened her voice.  She rested her hand on Kale’s sleeve. 
             “I think I did love you once, Atlantis.”
            “I think I did too.” She agreed quickly.
            “My marriage to Donatella was a disaster; so much so that I blame myself for her suicide.  I could remember what it was like with you, before her and I wanted that again.  The most logical reasoning I could come up with was to pick up where we’d left off.  Especially considering you were still alone.” The tone of his voice and the look in his eye had changed so dramatically that Atlantis was almost taken aback.  It was the first time she’d seen inside Kale since he’d come back to Khal Manar.  This was the Kale she cared about.  The one she remembered.  The one she could possibly have loved.  “You probably think that I don’t care about Dawniria, that I used her.  Partially that’s true.  I think she’s beautiful, I do care about her.  I want to speak with her about the baby.  I want her to know that she’ll be provided for.  I can’t say that I love her, Atlantis.  I can’t say that I know what it is to really love someone.”
            For a long time Atlantis didn’t say anything.  She didn’t know what to say.  This side of Kale was rarely if ever put forward and she both didn’t know how to take him, and at the same time didn’t want to say the wrong thing and chase it away for good.
            “I think you can learn, Kale.  What we had wasn’t so far off.”
            “Maybe.”  Kale paused and looked at Atlantis in the eye.  “I’m going to leave Khal Manar.  Today if possible.  I believe I’ve overstayed my welcome.”  There was a glint of humor in his eyes, a restoration of the Kale she knew a bit better.
            “I didn’t want to say anything.” Atlantis returned the joke softly, with a smile.
            “Well, I’ve been gone long enough.  My Prime Minister has probably organized a coup by now.  Tell Dawniria that she has nothing to fear from me.  I can’t say I know what the future for our baby means, but, she will be honored in my court.” Kale promised tiredly.  “Goodbye Atlantis.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. 
            Atlantis watched him go with Marria by her side. 
            “I never expected that.” Marria said.
            “Me neither.” Atlantis agreed.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


I’ve always lived in a town where everything was small, the houses, the streets, and the people.  No one really had huge ambitions, give or take one or two town favourites who dared defy the unspoken creed to become heroes in their own right, and go off into the limelight usually as hockey players, or baseball players.  They were proud to call Miller Creek home, and equally as glad to leave it behind. 
            Not so with me, or most of my friends, we were happy and young and believed that the borders of our little, Canadian town were the very edges of the world.  I guess I wouldn’t say that I was popular, but who would? When famous people recount the moving stories of their childhood, they usually mention that they too, were far from popular.  But, in a small high school, cliques form like the military alliances we learned about in History class, and you stick within them for survival.  I was happy where I had fallen – I wasn’t the geekiest in the group or the neediest, I wasn’t the prettiest or ugliest and so held to the social order and did what was necessary to live to tell the tale.  Though, in the summer of our grade 12 year, the very last thing on our minds was survival.  I can tell you what the first was, the mystery of the male gender, also known as boys.  Surprising that I graduated high school at all, really; my pre-occupation with the enigmatic sex only rarely recognized the validity of trivial matters such as chemistry, biology and of course, math.  But, boys, now there was a topic of study; they could come in any shape or size, or smell for that matter and my friends and I could chart them up on  a complicated formulaic scale it could make a chemistry professor scratch his head in wonder.  We loved it.  Not that the boys paid us too much mind.  Particularly me.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t worth the brief and minor previous romantic entanglements I had, but I was ready for more than just some simple hallway romance where “the man of my dreams” was too frightened to actually talk to me in public.  I wanted a man, and I suppose I was on the lookout for one.  My friends were too, though some would never admit it, and only feign their disinterest in the fleeting romantic entanglements, real or imagined, that graced our little group.  Truth be told, we were happy.  We hoped it would last forever, and in the same breath prayed that it never would.  That was when I met him.  Jack Stanton Greer, and my hopes of finally meeting a real man were confirmed. 
            “Charlotte, you still have my black sweater.” Riley Morgan poked her head up at me from the book she was buried behind. I returned her gaze through my wide lens sunglasses.
            “You don’t need it.” I answered, turning away. “It’s the middle of the hottest summer on the planet.  What do you need it for?”
            “That’s not the point.  I said you could borrow it, not keep it.  Plus, my Mom had a fit when she found out it was missing.  She said I was super irresponsible or something like that, because she buys me nice things and I can never keep track of my clothes.  Blah, blah, blah, whatever.  I just want her off my back.” Riley flipped from her back to her stomach, and balanced the heavy classic novel on the beach towel she’d brought.  She was short, and not as thin as I, but she had a pretty rounded face with large blue eyes and perpetually rosy cheeks.  I had always somewhat envied her short, manageable golden hair next to my heavy, auburn curls, but she said it gave the pair of us character.  No one needed clones for friends.  Studying her, I didn’t know if she was actually reading it or not.  Riley sometimes liked to pretend she was smarter than the rest of us by reading pretentious books, spouting off random Shakespearian quotes, or speaking common phrases in French. 
            I wrinkled my nose.  I liked the smell of warm sunscreen, and beneath my wide brimmed hat, I reeked of it. The beach was emptier today, but it was still early, and the deep, green lake waters were calm.  In a small town where there was nothing-to-do, the thing-to-do, was to go up to the lake for the day with friends and just hang out on the beach, doing what we did best; nothing.  I leaned back on my arms and let my eyes run the distant perimeter of the lake, peeking into the trees that edged their way up right to the water line.  Riley had begged her parents to borrow the car, and after a great deal of pleading and some good old fashioned bargaining we had been released to come to the lake.   It was a warm day, and the water’s edge would be filling up quickly with children digging sand castles, and splashing in the water; parents hovering nearby or sleeping on some distant blanket.  The smell of roasting hotdogs would drift over the lake like a welcoming mist, and somewhere over on the other side, a group would start up their boom box, the music would caress the lake waters and it would feel like a summer party.  The lake was too small for motor boats, which gave the secluded area the sense of something old fashioned, not shattered by the rumble and roar of technology.  I loved coming here, especially on days like today, where the people were plentiful and the mosquitoes were scarce.  Turning my head toward the beach entrance I noticed a large group and recognized them from school. 
            “Hey Riley, there’s Brennan Hodges.” I gestured toward the group.  Riley peered up over her book, slowly pulling her sunglasses down over her nose, picking the lanky brunette out of the crowd.  He glanced in our direction, and I practically heard the breath catch in her throat, but as he turned away again without so much as a wave, she harrumphed, and pulled her book back into her line of vision. 
            “So what?” She snapped.  “Who cares.” I smiled, looking away.  Hoping she wouldn’t catch the laugh in my voice.  She’d been head over heels in love with Brennan Hodges since seventh grade.  He was a nice guy, as guys go, somewhat athletic but could hold an intelligible conversation.  He seemed to enjoy how hot-under-the-collar he could make Riley, and so was her biggest source of torment.  Her secret love.
            “You know, statistically speaking its more likely we end up married to someone we knew in high school.” I quipped.
            “Statistically speaking? What do you mean, statistically speaking? You made that up.” She grumbled.
            “It’s true.  Statistically speaking, you have no hope.  You’re gonna end up with Brennan Hodges so you may as well just face up to it, and go over there and ask him out.  Get the awkward stuff over with.” She glared at me, as if I had actually interrupted her reading; then punched me hard in my arm.
            “Statistically speaking, you have more of a chance of getting struck by lightning before we get to the car.” She muttered. “Aren’t Hope and Amara supposed to be here?” She attempted to distract me and change the subject.  I let it go, really there was only so much I could put her through before she snapped, and I didn’t want to have to walk home. 
            “Oh, they’ll show sooner or later.  I happen to know how much they enjoy grand entrances.”  As if my very words ushered them in, I caught sight of Hope and Amara walking on to the far side of the beach; I could hear the theme music in my head, a mixture of Mission Impossible and Gilmore Girls.  It was like the whole world should have known that they had finally arrived, but forgot to pay attention.  At least neither Hope nor Amara seemed to notice.  In their minds the world had stopped and stared, and that was more than enough.
            “Hey girls!” Amara greeted them excitedly, looking for the ideal spot to settle herself and small armament of beach accessories down.  “Did you see all the guys that are here? I didn’t think there would be so many.  I saw Douglas Barns.  He is so cute, seriously.” She waggled her eyebrows over the rims of her sunglasses as if the rest of us might not catch her mature insinuations.  Douglas Barns was only one in a long line of crushes for Amara.  Crushes changed weekly, if not daily, and we were expected to expect it and go with the flow. 
            “You only think he’s cute because he sat beside you in History.” Hope intoned, laying out her one beach towel and setting aside the lone, simple bag she was carrying.
            “His gaze was electric, he practically asked me out when he asked to share my history book. He actually put his hand on mine and...”
            “For crying out loud, Amara.  It was the only seat left.” Hope rolled her eyes.
            “It was not!” Amara protested, pushing her sunglasses up her long, thin nose, and settling back on her hands to absorb the sun from the cloud speckled sky.
            “It was! He was late again to Folkart’s history class, and he knew that old Folksy would beat him to death with his meter stick if he asked to go to his locker to get his text book.” Hope rolled her eyes as Amara stuck out her tongue.
            “You know nothing about romance.”
            “And you are vacationing from reality.” Hope insisted, eager to get the last word in.  I refrained from diving in to the fray of conversation; these two claimed to be best friends, as did we all, but I knew better than to be caught in between them.  Besides it would only appear to the pair that I had taken the other’s side.  I pushed my fingers into the sand.  I loved the way it was hot on the surface but so smooth and cool beneath.  I was just entertaining broaching a new subject when a beach volleyball bounced through the confines of our tiny enclosure. The ball upset Amara’s bottle of ice water splashing it over Riley’s back, who shrieked in protest, jumping to her feet wiping desperately at the offending spray.  There was a cackle of victory from the group of boys who had been playing nearby.  It was Brennan, and another boy I didn’t recognize who came over to apologize.
            “Sorry Riley.” Brennan said after coming to a halt beside our outstretched beach towels.  I squinted up at him in the sun, he was wearing white runners without socks, and sticking up like two trees were his legs ending in some long grey and white board shorts.  He was bare-chested, like most of the boys around the volleyball net, and his dark, spiked hair contrasted his already summer golden skin.  Amara and Hope twittered behind their sunglasses, but Riley gave him a death glare.
            “Oh, I’m so sure that was an accident.” Riley thrust the volleyball back at him.  He caught the ball easily.
            “Do you want to play with us? We could use a few more.” Brennan nodded toward his waiting comrades. 
            “Who’s your friend?” Amara batted her eyelashes indicating the quiet boy behind Brennan.  She twirled the ear piece of her sunglasses between her teeth.  That was when I noticed him for the first time.  He was taller than Brennan by nearly two inches, was wider built across the chest but nearly as lean.  His hair was lighter brown, and slightly longer, bangs hanging down over his handsome features.  He was staring at me, and I felt my face blush crimson. 
            “Oh, this is Jack.  His family just moved to the area.” Brennan pointed a finger of each of us in turn. “First, may I introduce the lovely Riley Morgan,” He expertly dodged the clump of sand that flew toward him with a laugh. “Amara Stack, Hope Torrence, and Charlotte Finn.”  I smiled in greeting.  I noted that his eyes never rested on any of the other girls for more than a second or two, before stopping back at me. 
            “You girls ought to come join us.” Jack invited, his voice warm and rich.  It made me melt inside, stranger than that, it made me brave, like I was accepting a challenge that he’d set before me. 
            “I’m game.” I got to my feet, reaching for my sandals.  I pulled my long hair back and twisted it into a messy knot at the back of my head and moved to join the game. I wasn’t a paragon of athleticism, but I believed in seizing every opportunity.  Amara followed, eager to tap into some of the flirtatious energy that the idea of a volleyball game put forward.  She followed Jack like a whipped puppy, and so I automatically joined the opposing team feeling just more than a twinge of frustrated jealousy.  Amara could never let another girl land a man before she had her fair shot at it.  I could see Riley glancing up from her book from time to time to acknowledge the whole affair with disdain, and Hope, contrasted happily by her side, a fan on the sidelines. 
            The game was an exhilarating standoff between well matched teams that likely shouldn’t pin any hopes on professional beach volleyball.  The game ended and the restarted, and ended and restarted again several times. Jack was amazing, he was gracious to the other players, and everyone seemed to like him.  He was a good sport and tried not to exaggerate his talents too much.  He even paused now and then to send a wink in my direction.  The energy he put forward made the games pass quickly. The group was eager for one last round when Riley approached.
            “Charlie,” She called, using a pet name we’d coined somewhere around the third grade when she’d been distressed that her own name sounded too much like a boys.  “I’ve gotta get going.  My parents need the car our family thing tonight.”  She was already carrying her rolled towel under her arm, and her skin was showing signs of lobstering from the day in the sun.
            “Oh,” I conceded slowly, disappointed. “Right.” As soon as I was out of the picture, my dear friend Amara would be free to sink her adorable meat-hooks into the handsome backside of Jack, the only contender on the field of beach-volleyball battle, as far as I was concerned.   I silently bemoaned the fact that my own parents hadn’t let me borrow the car.  I slogged over to where my things were laid and began to pick them up.  I considered briefly asking Amara for a ride back, but after seeing the collection of stuff she brought along it was a wonder that both she and Hope could fit into that tiny jeep she’d brought, not to mention a whole other body plus gear.  Suddenly, he was beside me, handing me my beach bag.
            “You have to go?” Jack asked.
            “Yeah, Riley has this family thing tonight.  They need the car.” I offered a small, regret-filled smile. He caught my gaze with his cobalt eyes.
            “I can bring you home.” He returned the smile, but his was warm and inviting.  I bit my lip, trying to hold back the grin he’d brought out of me.
            “I...” The idea filled me with temptation.  My parents had this rule about not accepting rides from strangers.  Something about leaving with who I’d arrived with.  But, what could it hurt? He was handsome and sweet and generous.  He was a fantastic volley-ball player, which could only speak to the integrity of his character.  I paused in my thoughts.  Somehow I doubted my father would see it that way. “No, thanks.  I would love to, but my parents made me promise to come back with Riley.” I declined, desperately hoping he understood the true depth of the regret in my voice. 
            “Ok.  Next time then, Charlie.  Charlotte.” He gave a small wave before sprinting back to the others preparing for yet another round.  I suppressed another grin, unsuccessfully tried to look cool and collected behind my over-large sunglasses as I joined Riley in our walk back to the car.
            Jack Stanton Greer was the main topic of conversation that entire ride home.  We did not discuss Brennan Hodges.

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