Sitting out by the chiminea with a cup of steaming coffee, listening to the early morning sea birds telling the world how good their lives were, was the perfect time to step back and take stock of my own life. My assignment to find George was barreling toward a conclusion. Beltane was on April 30th this year, 85 days away. After that I was going to have to find a new job, but the $25,000 bonus I’d been promised meant I wouldn’t have to take the first gig that came along. Hell, maybe Mr. Pierson had seen the error of his ways and wanted me back. At least high school basketball would be over.
On the other hand, the status of my—what, relationship? Probably too definitive a word, but I couldn’t think of one better—with Sabrina was barreling toward nowhere. Top on my list of things to do was to find out where we stood. Curious that I’d spent twelve hours with her and didn’t have a clue.
On the same other hand, 85 days or so from now I would be leaving White Sands. So I guess we were barreling toward a conclusion of some sort. Women can get you in a lot of trouble. Maybe Chai would take me back. At least I’d know exactly where our relationship stood. Plus I would be getting laid.
My first call was the lawyer, who fit us in on Thursday afternoon. My second call was to Chai.
“Rick. Good to hear your voice. Hold on, let me finish ringing up this customer. It’ll just take a minute.” In the background I could hear a woman whining about how hard it was to get her kids to eat their Omega-3’s and how she was certain that was why Josh was having trouble with math. What a job. Even covering high school basketball was better than that. Maybe.
“So, Josh’s math woes are due to an Omega-3 deficiency?” I asked when she came back on the line.
“I’d guess that Josh’s math woes are due to the idiot genes he got from his mother. I expected you to call yesterday full of news and questions. Tell me, tell me.”
“No way, not over the phone. Dinner Thursday?”
“I can get free. Should I wear panties?”
“There’s a good chance I’m bringing the boss with me, and she’s pretty hot. So you decide.”
Our suggestive repartee continued for another couple of minutes, but was interrupted by another customer anxious over proper nutrition for skin care before it could get out of hand.
And yes, I was skipping breakfast at Peckerwoods’. Opting for a late lunch, hoping for a walk when Sabrina got off. Perhaps clarity was too much to hope for, but if you’re going nowhere, change something. No reason to leap back into the same old rut.
“Well, lookee here, it’s the Charleston Yankee making a late appearance. I thought for sure you’d stood me up.” Sabrina was speaking loud enough for the dozen customers still lingering over their pie and iced tea to hear easily. “That’s every girl’s fear, you know. Once she spends the night with a guy, he immediately loses interest.”
I knew better, but I’d walked in without my A game and had been caught blindsided. Now it was third and long, and I could feel myself blushing. “Spent the night lying on the ground passed out with our clothes on. I didn’t even have a chance to lose interest.”
“Ooh,” went the crowd, appreciating the effort.
“One day back on the job, and she’s already too sassy,” Mr. Fisher tossed in. “Good thing you got here to take her down a peg or two. I didn’t get nowhere when I tried it.”
The lunch special was fish tacos, something I’d never imagined would make it to the menu. Afterward, I did indeed get my walk. Right back to where we’d kissed before. But I didn’t kiss her, didn’t even hold her hand. Didn’t want any distractions for me or her either.
“So, Sabrina, after 35 days in the mountains, where are you?”
“My oh my, a man who doesn’t beat around the bush.” She looked down and worried at a nail with her teeth, something I’d never seen her do before. “Where I want to be is totally done with JD. Where if he walked through the door I’d pick up the phone and dial 911. But I can’t seem to get there. I still dream about him. And even worse, when I let my guard down, I daydream about him coming back a changed man. Stupid, I know. That’s never going to happen. But I just seem to be stuck.”
I had nothing to say, so I didn’t even try. And I’m sure that everything I felt was right there on my face, but I didn’t try to hide that either.
“You know what helped the most? Walking the wheel. Maybe if I did that three times a day for a year, and he didn’t come home in that whole time, I’d wake up one morning and he’d be missing from in here.” She knocked on her breastbone with a fist.
Then I had a blast of inspiration. “I know something better. Come with me to the island tomorrow. Chai called it the most powerful place within 500 miles. Walking the wheel there is like a year somewhere else.”
“Yeah, I’ve experienced some of that powerful. OK, mister. I’ll do it. Tomorrow, same time, same place. I’ll bring a change of clothes and a positive attitude.”
With all due respect to global warming, February can still be pretty nasty out there on the water. Sabrina had a grim expression that belied the positive attitude that she’d promised. At least she was leaning up against me as we motored out toward Avalon.
That was OK, I had positive attitude enough for both. I’d dreamed about Nimue the night before, and then had a conference with her while I walked the wheel that morning. And a chicken fried steak for lunch. That’s way too destructive to do every day, but this was a special occasion. In between I’d made the trek into town to pick up a few things; my backpack was loaded down on the hike up the path to the hilltop.
There were matches in my pack, enabling me to light a fire when we first got there. Right where the heatless bonfire had been a few days before. Not necessary for the ceremony, perhaps, but flames are so spiritual.
I’d brought a large flat flagstone, the biggest I could carry, that I laid right in front of the altar hole. On top of that a square of cloth as close to the color of Nimue’s hair as I could find in the fabric store. Then a hurricane lamp—a beeswax candle would have been better, but no way would it stay lit in the wind. The lamp did, its flickering flame close enough to a candle’s for our purposes.
Sabrina watched in silence with a look that I could only interpret as dubiousness. But that was OK. I was capable of believing for two.
Then I made an offering. I wanted it to be something expensive, and the only suitable liquids I could think of were perfume and single-malt scotch or very old cognac. But I wasn’t going to pour out an entire bottle of scotch, and James Bond would have turned over in his grave if I drank the rest. So, knowing basically nothing about perfume, I went with a $119 bottle of Chanel No. 5. Seemed expensive enough. Sabrina added incredulous disbelief to dubiousness as I drained it onto the ground, but still didn’t say anything.
“I need something of yours.” After a slight pause, Sabrina shrugged and tugged a tiny gold cross necklace from under her shirt; I hadn’t even known she was wearing it. “Perfect.” I laid that on the altar beside the hurricane lamp.
Satisfied with the altar layout, I remained there kneeling in front of it for a few minutes. Not praying, exactly. Just open to possibility.
“OK, now you must walk the wheel three times. The first time, hold the golden-haired woman in your mind. The second time, you need to concentrate on JD. Whatever you feel during that time is OK, just make sure you remain focused on him.”
I stood up, faced her and took both her hands in mine. “After that, come put your necklace back on, and walk the wheel once more. Keep your mind clear, so it can receive whatever the island and its high priestess want to send you. I’ll be here, holding you in my thoughts.”
Sabrina closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and headed off to do my bidding.
What did I know about walking the wheel three times and putting something of hers on the altar? Not a damned thing. Did it make a lick of different what color my make-shift altar cloth was? Hardly. But what we did need was a ritual of significant import to allow Avalon, S.C. and the golden-haired woman to work their magic. I know it would have worked for me; I just wanted Sabrina to be open to that same power, whatever it was.
I got chilled kneeling there in front of the altar. Seemed like Sabrina was taking a very long time. Well, that had to be a good thing.
And then all of a sudden I didn’t feel the cold any more. Or the time. I heard Sabrina reach over me and retrieve her cross; clearly heard the chain rustle. Which I know wasn’t possible, but I heard it.
I held her in my mind and knew that she was crying. Or heard that she was crying, which was also impossible.
I jumped when she touched me. Her eyes were glistening, and she had an expression that was more determined than grim.
“Just that I’m done here. Let’s go home.”
I hadn’t even realized that she’d gone back and walked the wheel a third time.
We rode back in silence again. This was beginning to be a ritual all in itself, leaning against each other on the boat seat and not speaking. With the boat stowed away but before I got in my car for the short ride to the Peckerwoods’ parking lot, suddenly her arms were around me and her face buried in my shoulder. I could feel her sobbing but heard nothing, although this time it would have at least been possible.
Then she stopped, but didn’t let go. So I didn’t either. It was late afternoon, and somebody would be here to take a boat out anytime. But if she didn’t care who might see us, I sure as hell didn’t. And if it happened to be JD, well, my Taser was in the pocket of my jacket, right where it was supposed to be.
When she spoke into my shoulder, her words were muffled but I heard those clearly. “Your car is a mustang, and a mustang’s a horse, right? So if you turn out to be my knight riding in on a horse to rescue me, a green horse is as good as any. Green was my favorite color when I believed in knights.”
She moved away, holding me at arms’ length. “See you tomorrow?”
“Breakfast or lunch?”
“Whichever you choose, I’ll be there.”
Then she kissed me. Not a desperately hungry kiss like the first time, nor the gentle brush-of-the-lips-and-imagine-the-promise kind we’d shared since. Our lips were full on each others’, tongues just flickering rather than probing. After our mouths moved apart she held her lips right there as if savoring the memory of mine, then moved to kiss me again. Her hands slipped under my jacket and tugged my shirt out of my trousers, kneading my back with the gentlest of massages. My hand found its way under her shirt as well, discovering the warm delicious softness of bare Sabrina flesh. My finger tips slipped beneath her waistband and came to rest right where her buttocks began to swell and divide. Pressing her lightly to me.
Then with a deep sigh she released me, leaving me with only her memory branded onto my lips, my fingertips, my back.
“I’ll walk over to my car. Truth be known, I need the chill to clear my head.”
At seven the next morning, the phone rang. “What I’d really like to do,” Sabrina started in without even saying hello, “is have dinner with the man I dreamed about last night.” I could imagine her grinning over the phone. “Are you free?”
“I’m free Friday for sure. Are we going to Peckerwoods’?”
“I’m celebrating, so it has to be somewhere that serves champagne. That’s the only requirement. We can eat sardines and saltines on a blanket, for all I care. As long as we have champagne.”