Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Isolation Island

Isolation Island, Day 16

Co-written By Crystan Brewton and Anna Wright

Previously…..June 21st, 2017

Stepping Through

Anna Wright shook her head around as she stepped through the sliding doors, oddly disoriented as her feet found the stairs. What was wrong with her?! She felt dizzy and her ears were ringing. Running her hands along the wall she made her way carefully to the parking level following a few last cars that trickled out. The strange sensations subsided and she caught her breath as she walked. Maybe she was just hungry and dehydrated. No…it wasn’t just her…an alarm sounded and there was shouting. Anna sped up to a jog and made her way quickly off the ferry. As her foot hit the solid ground of the road, another blast hit, knocking her forward. She gripped the pavement for dear life and closed her eyes. When she opened them, there was pandemonium in all directions. She vaguely saw Phoenix, who she was meeting from the ferry, seemingly calling out to her and running towards her.  But when she looked back, the ferry was simply…..gone.

Thursday, July 16th…..

Phoenix Fire Moon sighed softly as he poured the water over the tea  balls in the cups.   Anna had been staying with him since the ... Whatever it was that happened.  Everyone was sharing housing and, as much as her friends wanted to help ... they really couldn't ... well, he remembered with a slight smile.  Tamela could have, as she had moved in with her girlfriend, but ... surprisingly, Anna had accepted the offer to sleep at his place once the doctor let her out of the clinic.

The whole thing was shocking and not only to him.  Cedar Point .... Gone.  Gabrielle and Sky ... dead .. gone.  Thankfully Anna had not been badly injured, but she was .. different ... then again .. everyone was a bit stunned at this point.

He put the cups on the table and waited for Anna to wake up.

The sun streamed through the window right across Anna's face. The combination of heat and light woke her slowly and uncomfortably. She winced and blinked as she wiped away a light layer of sweat. Yuck. Swinging her legs over the bed she looked around Phoenix's simple bedroom. He had graciously given it up to her despite her many protests and offers to take the couch. She could hear him moving around in the kitchen. He was using the propane burner on the windowsill to make tea. The familiar hiss as it shut off followed by the clinking of the cups cued her in. Anna grabbed her light cardigan and wrapped it around her as it slipped onto her body, making her tank top pajama top and shorts more decent for the company of a male friend...not that he was a stranger to it all... but that was many years ago...She padded to the door and quietly opened it before moving to sit before the unclaimed cup at the chair that had become hers by habit with a small but tired smile.

"Morning. Thanks."

Phoenix smiled and leaned against his sink when Anna came in and sat down.  “Good morning.”  he returned the greeting.  For his part, he was in nothing but a pair of loose shorts.  He blew on the tea and sipped it.  The weather had grown quite hot.  One of the hotter summers on record.  But the skies were beautiful, he couldn’t deny it.  “I hope you slept well.”  his bed was comfortable.  But so was his couch.  Giving up his bed to Anna was his pleasure.  Her company comforted him.  In the Cedar Point disaster his friends Sky and Gabby had been killed.  He’d thought he had lost Anna as well, so seeing her on the ferry was like seeing something special.  And then she has stumbled and for one wild moment he thought he would lose her as well.  He glanced out of the window.  “What say we take a walk this morning.  Before things get too hot.”  he offered.  While he told himself that Anna had been isolating herself, the truth was that it wasn’t just her.  He had as well, under the guise of taking care of Anna.  “Check in on Stephanie and Tamela?”

Anna wrapped her hands around the cup and then eased them off quickly. It really was quite hot. She surveyed Phoenix and nodded. She had blushed furiously the first morning she encountered him with so much skin on display but had dialed down her reaction to an inner nod to her own modesty. It was his home and his way, and he was being kind to let her stay there. She was secretly glad there wasn't room elsewhere. This was quiet and she and Phoenix ebbed and flowed well with giving each other space. They both had huge emotions to face right now and so much loss. She felt safe moving through some of it at least near him. A walk would be good too. Anna knew her own avoidance of what was out that door wasn't helpful and she hoped it wasn't forcing Phoenix to stay cooped up to humour her.

"Yes. I'd like that." She meekly conceded.

Had Phoenix been able to read her thoughts, he would have laughed in delight.  Normally he was a nudist, stripping out of his clothes at the earliest opportunity.  But he had made the concession and worn shorts around the apartment.  They had been lovers at one point and even then it was not something he had done.  Inside himself, he wondered what had or was changing in himself.

After blowing on his tea, he sipped it and he felt a weight on the back of his long thick locks.  In a few seconds, Anna will probably see the elderly Flea appear on the top of his head.  Phoenix chuckles and sets his cup down, reaching up.  "And good morning to you, Flea."  he cradles her in his hand.  "I hope you enjoyed YOUR breakfast, because that was the last of the organic cat food."  he tells her.  "And you're too old to hunt, I think.  So it will have to be table scraps or commercial cat food, if the Brates haven't bought out the grocery store."  he nuzzles the cat's nose and hugs her to him, closing his eyes a moment.  She is an old cat.  Past twenty years.  At some point he would have to consider her dying.  He just hoped it was not too soon.  He clears his throat, roughly and looks at Anna, setting the cat down carefully and watching her head for Anna.

"Well, we'll have to head for the Reinhardt's or to the Sharp place.  Maybe we can pick them up something along the way."  he offers.  it is then it hits him that Frank Sharp's roommate had also died in the Solstice mess, so the two women now had the house literally to themselves.  So much loss.

Anna reached out her hand and smiled as Flea approached and nuzzled it. "Hello Sweetie. Don't worry, we won't let you starve. But it might not be organic..." She chuckled a bit and then nodded after a sigh. " I almost said I'll text them.... but I guess we're living old school for awhile longer. It's amazing what becomes habit so fast. All the connections through technology... but we didn't need it growing up." She looked out the window as Flea curled into the crook of her arm and flopped "Do you think we're.... it? Like what if it's all just.... gone?" Anna's eyes were pained at the idea but she held her voice steady. "I mean talk about... off the grid..." She exhaled and gave Flea a good scratch under the chin.

Phoenix listened and chuckled.  "I imagine the kids on the island are going insane.  No internet, no nothing.  But there is still the summer camp for the kids."  he watches Flea get her pats.  "I wish I knew, Anna."  he sighs deeply.  "I can't imagine it if we are.  Very existential thinking."  He folds his arms over his chest.  "We're alive.  Survived whatever happened."  he grins as Flea gets her scratch.  "Well, then those of us who know HOW to live off the grid will have to help those who do NOT ...."  he pauses.  "I think that's us and Jude Murphy..."

Anna smiles a bit as Flea rolls over and shows her belly and then runs her hand lightly along it "Well, it'll be like camping in some ways. I'm sure enough people have done that. Maybe it will make us all appreciate each other more...I mean we've already lost...so......" Her breath catches in her throat and she turns away as she exhales slowly and then says "Yeah...a walk would be good..."

Phoenix suppresses his own sigh when she can't even say how much they've lost.  He hasn't asked about her father yet.  Or his girlfriend.  Instead he puts on a slightly cheerful voice.  "Then let's go.  I'll change first, then you can."  he moves into the bedroom and quickly changes into a pair of cargo shorts and undershirt.  He even closed the door.  When he emerges he plops himself on his couch/bed and reaches for his sandals while she takes her turn to change.

Anna has been surviving in mostly donated clothes since the quake in Cedar Point where her whole home was lost. Her art school friends pooled what they had together in or close to her size. Her cousin Audrey had immediately sent a care package from the States since she had started selling some world beat style items in her bookstore.  Anna emerged from the bedroom after her turn in a pair of purple Thai fishing pants and an aqua colour too big tshirt from the 2015 Nanaimo B.C. bathtub race. She slowly walked towards her own flip flops by the door as she scooped her hair into a pony tail at the same time. She was a little thinner from the stress of the last month and a half. Eating and sleeping with regularity had been a low priority. She stood by the door watching Phoenix and reaching for the handle "Ready?"

Phoenix slips into his sandals and watches Anna come out of his bedroom.  She needs to eat more, but he couldn't talk.  He'd also been off his feed.  "Ready."  he heads out with her and looks around the wooded area, taking a deep breath.  Part of him wants to cut through the nature of Alexandra and avoid humans but he knows that isn't the point of getting out right now.  He heads towards the sidewalk across from the ferry ticket building and heads for Perkatory.

Anna fell into step beside Phoenix and looked around as they walked. The townsfolk were plentiful, out and about and socializing on street corners. She recognized many faces from Cedar Point in the mix and a couple from Alexandra. Everyone still looked a little shell shocked but the spirit of banding together was already embracing the survivors of the two tragedies. Sister towns and twinned sorrows.

Michelle Kim, the midwife, was one of the Alexandra faces she knew and Anna was tentatively beginning a wave when a bearded middle aged man walking two dogs engaged Michelle's conversational attention and then suddenly burst into tears. Michelle and Anna exchanged a knowing look and Michelle focused in on the mourner and spoke soothingly. The beginning could be overheard as they walked past.

"Oh George I'm so sorry. We all loved Helen......It's good to see you walking again. I'm sure Kester and Fergie are glad to have the walk.........I know......"

Anna couldn't help but glance back at the man's moment of grief and swallowed hard as she watched. She sighed and looked sadly up at Phoenix.

Phoenix also watched the people passing by.  George Arnett broke down more or less in front of Perkatory, so he decided it was best to keep on moving.  He caught words as they walked.  People were still talking, that was for sure.

"Daisy, you and the baby are going to be FINE.  Trust me, you can do it."

Seamus Reinhardt was comforting a pregnant woman .. young woman.  He recognized her and, sadly, was not surprised to find out she was expecting.  But apparently it wasn't Seamus Reinhardt's baby .. probably a good thing, as Seamus was truly turning into the stereotypical 'bad boy', although he was hanging out with Daisy as if she wasn't pregnant and so a possible kink in his bad boy rep.

They were coming out of Earthcakes, which was fine.  Phoenix kept walking towards the corner, planning on turning to see if Frank or Tams were working or not.

Anna took Phoenix's cue and kept walking with him. She overheard the next conversation and recognized the boy; one of the Reinhardt kids, one of Mike's nephews. She kept mixing them up but they were all redheads, like some bizarre Weasley clan. Maybe she should try and find herself a knit scarf and request membership. This one seemed nice enough though, comforting his pregnant friend. God the poor girl...like THAT wasn't enough for a young woman to be facing!

Just as they got to the police station she saw Tamela and Stephanie exiting from it towards two bicycles leaned against the front window. Stephanie had her back to her as she was ahead but Tamela saw her and her face broke into a relieved grin "Anna!! Finally!" She was grabbed into a fierce hug and returned it.

"Tams..." She whispered hoarsely and then found her voice and called out "Steph?"

Stephanie turned and smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes, which filled with tears "Anna.....Phoenix...." She sniffed and blinked "Hey..."

Anna stepped sideways with Tamela in tow and pulled Steph into the hug too. The three women broke down together and just stood there as if suspended in time and space.

Phoenix watched the ladies embrace while standing back and out of the way.  He bumped into something solid and turned to face one of the Reinhardt's.  John's brother, if his memory wasn't fried.  He was in an Alexandra PD uniform, so he must have transferred after the earthquake.  Beside him and well under him was Frank Sharp.

There were few smiles ... perhaps more than a week ago, but it was still a relatively fresh wound.

"How are you, Frank?"  he asked her.  "I heard about Jasmine."

Frank nodded.  "Hanging in there."  her gruff voice replied.  "I guess everyone is."  she paused  "Sam told me about Gabby and Sky."

Phoenix nodded in his turn.  "Hanging in there."  he parroted.  He glanced at Michael.  "You're Michael Reinhardt, right?  John's little brother."  of course little was a relative term.

Michael nodded.  "Yea.  That's me."

But their conversation was too awkward and for a while they simply watched the women hold onto each other for dear life.  Finally Frank patted Tams on the shoulder.  "Catch you at home." was all she said.  Michael followed her into the station after kissing the top of Stephanie's head.  Phoenix wondered if the women even registered the touches.

Tamela turned towards Frank after the pat and watched her walk back into the station with a look of pained but absolute love. She knew how hard losing Jasmine was hitting and still Frank gave her the space to grieve with and comfort her friends too.

Stephanie's eyes closed at Michael's kiss. She knew the feeling of his affection even in the slightest form and it offered so much strength right now. He was her anchor in a sea of overwhelming agony. She held onto her two friends a moment longer and then started to ease off slowly, wiping at her eyes and taking deep breaths.

Anna smiled at the gestures of her friend's partners and then stepped back as Steph began letting go. Tamela followed suit and the three looked at each other and then at Phoenix.

Steph addressed him "I'm really glad Anna can stay with you.. so neither of you are alone." She stepped over and offered a little half hug.

Tamela gave him an awkward nod and muttered "Yeah...what she said."

Anna laughed at her friends, despite the gravity of the situation and then watched Steph and Phoenix warmly.

Watching the couples gave Phoenix mixed feelings.  He had lost two people that he had loved deeply.  But Anna survived ... he pushed that away ... that was, as they say 'a long time ago'.  He nods at Stephanie.  "Believe me, I am glad to have her.  My cat ... is a cat, after all."  it was as close to a joke as he was capable of at the moment.  He looks at Anna fondly.  "She will always have a place with me."

Steph let go of Phoenix and stepped back laughing through her remaining tears "Fuck that's deep eh?" She lightly teased.

Tamela snorted a bit.

Anna rolled her eyes and stepped towards Phoenix while eyeing her two friends "Jackasses...." she joked and then hugged Phoenix herself, giving him a light kiss on the cheek as she moved fully into the embrace.

Phoenix arched his pale brows on his pale face.  "I am as deep as they come."  he teased back.  When Anna hugged him, he hugged her back firmly; almost desperately.  "Thank you, Anna."  he whispered into her hair.  It was not until he felt her arms around him that he understood how much he had needed her the last several weeks.  Since the Cedar Point quake .. how seeing her stumble on her way off the ferry had terrified him.  He had friends, but Anna was among his oldest and dearest.  But he had no idea what the gods had planned with all of this death and destruction.  He felt for Anna pulling away so he could time his own backing away.  "If you ladies would like to ..."  he motions feebly ... 'catch up' was truly the wrong thing to say.  "I can find someplace to be."  he mentioned casually.  "I told the mayor I would be in his office in a day or so to talk to him about maintaining the towns solar panels.  I know I an glad this town jumped on the green bandwagon long long ago."  that was one area in which he had nothing but the deepest respect for the former Mayor Sewid.

Anna felt herself unconsciously burying into Phoenix's shoulder as he hugged back so tightly and spoke into her hair. She couldn't even quantify the comfort she still felt in his embrace after all the years. Her back was to Steph and Tamela but it dawned on her at some point she should let go so she reluctantly slid her arms down Phoenix's and began to step back and turn around.

Tamela and Stephanie had exchanged a knowing look during the hug as they observed and Tamela gave Phoenix an obvious suspicious stare after. Tams was often a little protective of her friends and especially now with everyone being so vulnerable. Her stare was redirected by Anna answering Phoenix.

"I was going to tag along. If we end up checking on panels that's cool too." She sighed "No one's seen my Dad or Sunny but I know he stashed a bit of a stock pile out there too. We need to assess those kinds of resources right now." She was seeking practical action over being a continual emotional wreck as she was prone to.

Steph looked tiredly at the group "I need to go back to Tristan. The Reinhardt's are wonderful but he needs to know where I am more than usual.... and Mom.... I don't know what she needs but I need to check on her too."

Anna and Tamela nodded. Sakura had completely shut down and was barely functioning. It was the polar opposite of the Sakura everyone knew but she had never experienced this much loss. The rest of the Yamadas were reeling too and watching her, helplessly, waiting for her to reemerge.

Phoenix nearly smiled at the suspicious stare, but instead ignored it.  "Sure.  I can always use an assistant and you've always been a great one."  and she had, even in their younger days.  He looks at Steph talking about her mother and son.  He comes close to asking if the son was in the camp, then decides Steph is wary enough about him and doesn't.

Tamela looked between Stephanie and Anna standing now slightly in front of Phoenix as if she was deliberating her next move.

"Steph, I'll walk you back and then maybe help them. Since you're going to my brother in law.....damn I miss texting still. I'll meet you at City Hall?"

Stephanie smoothed her hair and stepped forward to give Anna a hug goodbye "Come see me. We're moving in a few days though."

Anna hugged Steph and answered Tams "Maybe we can get you some tin cans and a string?" She chuckled and nodded "I wrote down the building address already. And you know where to find me when we don't meet by accident. Geez we're going to have to start making actual plans...all of us."

Phoenix kept his face deadpan as Tamela's words.  Did they not know of his past with Anna?  Possibly.  She was private and the circumstances of their breakup could have been embarrassing to Anna.  He only nodded.  "It shouldn't take too long.  he tells them.  "Try the mayors office, if he stays there."  Adum was far more mobile than Fred Sewid had been.  His secretary should know where to find him."  he chuckles.  "Going without texts will be good for us, as long as it lasts." he was no technophobe, but even he realized how much he had come to rely on machines and part of him was glad to be weening off.

Tamela nodded once at Phoenix and then squeezed Anna's shoulder on her way past as she and Steph let go "I'll catch up."

Steph gave both Anna and Phoenix a little wave and headed off with Tams "Cheers."

Anna had turned sideways towards Phoenix to watch them go and then stepped back beside him to walk to city haul. She had noticed Tamela's posturing and was trying not to give an obvious reaction. Tamela and Stephanie knew everything, all of her past relationships, her wounds, who she had pined for in the after years. Casually tucking a strand of hair behind her ear she asked "You're cool with tams helping right? She LOVES ladders after all....."

Phoenix watched them go and grinned down at Anna.  "No problem at all."  he assures her.  "You know I still have that farm mentality.  The more help, the better."  he tells her.  "So .. off to the mayors office?"  he asks motioning across the street.  Before he can even move, Adum Brate comes out of the building.  He is in jeans and a business shirt.  With him is Fred Sewid and a woman he recognizes as the former mayor of Cedar Point.  "Come on .. let's join them.  Guess we don't see the office today."  He laughs and heads across the street.

Anna's whole being lightens at the sight of Shirley Douglas and she nods as she follows. Shirley beams as she spots Anne and intercepts the greetings by swooping at her as if she's found an extra grandchild.

"There you are my dear. I've been so worried." Shirley reached out and cupped Anna's face with both hands and then hugged her.

"I'm Ok Shirley. It's so good to see you!" She looked past Shirley and smiled a little tearfully at Adum and Fred. She didn't know Fred well at all but Adum was familiar.

Both Adum and Fred stepped back a bit when Roberta swooped down on Anna.  All three men chuckled a bit.  It was a very sweet sight.

Phoenix looked over the women's heads at Fred and Adum.  "Missers Mayors."  he intoned.

Adum sighed.  "Oh please, Phoenix."  he all but pleaded.  "Of everyone on this island, I thought I could count on YOU to keep things casual."

Fred chuckled a bit.  "I just like hearing that name aimed at someone else, still."  he confessed.  "Phoenix Fire Moon, if memory serves."  he knew it did.

Phoenix nodded.  "Yes sir.  And I'm sorry Adum, it was just ... everyone needs their mood lightened."

Adum nodded.  "No worries.  You're right."  he motioned towards the Sigh Coffee House.  "Let's walk."  he had a clipboard tucked under one arm ... usually it was a tablet computer, but with no internet, perhaps he was trying to set an example to save electricity.  "When the ladies are ready, of course."

Fred grinned.  "Shirley couldn't help but ... help."  he points out.  "And we were very lucky that our daughter and granddaughter were visiting us when ... all this happened ... whatever the hell it was."

Anna and Shirley eased off their embrace but Shirley wound her arm through Anna's "I think a little humour will get us all through Phoenix. Interesting name dear boy." She looks at Anna "Friend of yours? You and your mother and those hippie boys..." She teased.

Anna laughed and blushed slightly before looking pained. Shirley winced like she knew she'd put a foot in her mouth "I shouldn't have... I'm so sorry.."

Anna shook her head and blinked "No no it's ok. We have to be able to talk about them. Mom's gone but I don't ever want her to be forbidden. I don't know where my Dad is... I thought he was here... with Sun.... but no one's seen them.... maybe they went travelling... I hope they're ok...I'm so glad some of your family were here and still are."

Shirley sighed "Me too. Let's walk." The pair started off with the men.

Anna noticed Adum's clipboard with a small smile "Adum you look like a health inspector." She extended her grin over to Fred and Phoenix.

Phoenix grinned.  "The short story is that I rose from my mothers ashes.  So I became Phoenix Fire.  And the Moon ... my father changed his name legally so ... it's on my birth certificate and not a damn thing I can do about it."  he watches Anna, and doesn't get too deeply in it.  "We've been friends a long time."  is all he'll say before laughing at Adum.  "You do .. she's right."

Adum listened to the naming story.  "Well ... Fred always wore suits.  I do . . sometimes.  But I don't want to look TOO formal these days."  he moved with them all.  "We had an outside contractor for the solar panels ... and now .. obviously ... we don't."  he sighs slightly.  "I don't know what's going on, but we're lucky to have it .. we still have electricity.  Our desalination plant is working just fine.  Alexandra is self sustaining."  he claps Fred on the back.  "All thanks to this man right here."

Fred mock growled.  "I'm a penny pinching miser ... and it is finally paying off."

Phoenix grinned.  "Well .. I know how to clean and maintain solar panels.  I didn't always sell records."  he considers.  "Anna has offered to help me.  We work well together.  And ... was it Tamela?  Offered to help as well ..."  he shrugs.  "I think she wants to make sure I'm not taking advantage."

Anna swallowed quietly and didn't comment on Tamela's potential motivations. She looked between Adum and Fred "Makes this a good place to get stuck then. There are maybe some other ways we could increase self sustainability if it goes on... well we'll see right?"

Shirley gave Fred a little wink "Cheap is your excuse but we all know you have this town in your heart. Let the kids do it now I say. These three seem to have their heads on right." She shifted her gaze to Phoenix "Tamela is my great niece. Careful not to cross her. She can be delightfully sharp." Shirley chuckled at her own words.

Anna rolled her eyes "Sharp? Oh god Shirley... I'm not going to repeat that to Tams and Frank. Even if they might find it delightful too."

Shirley hunched forward as she walked, fully giggling.

Adum nodded as they headed for the corner and pauses to cross the street.  It looked like they were headed for the park behind the police station.  "Well that's pretty much WHY I called Fred here in.  I would have researched on the internet, but .... there IS no internet."  and then Shirley spoke and he blinked, then shook his head.

Fred snorted again.  "God ... the puns .. the puns ...."  he looked fondly at Shirley, however.  Then he went back to the business at hand.  "Well we already have the solar power.  And our own desalination plant.  Thats electricity and water.  We had a huge restock of food for the grocery and restaurants for the summer, so the silos were full when that earthquake hit.  But that won't last forever."

Adum nodded again.  "Yes.  I already told the food establishments to make their food stretch because we don't know when we'll have a resupply ..."  he sighed.  "If ever."  Glancing over at Statutes, he almost grinned.  "Peter O'Brian and my father-in-law have become fast friends and are finding ways to make alcohol out of anything they can get their hands on.  Peter has a book on making all kinds of alcohol.  But other foods ....  A lot of people with gardens or garden space were given the seeds in the grocery.  So hopefully there be vegetables, even if it never rains again ... again thanks to the desalination plant.  The fishermen are bringing in fish, so ...."  he blows out a breath.  "I think we can survive even if .... you know ...  this is it."  he clears his throat.  "But I want those solar panels taken care of like they're your first born child."

Phoenix laughed at the pun and then got serious.  Alexandra did seem blessed by the gods.  "Well .. worse comes to worse we'll all have to go vegan....."  he grins.  "I know there goats on the island, so maybe milk.  May be some chickens, so MAYBE eggs and the like.  By now the perishables should be gone.  I know I don't have any left.  Which reminds me, can I have some cat food, if YOU have some.  She might like fresh caught fish, however.  I know I do."  he paused.  "And the solar panels .. yes, I can do that.  Take a section of town a day ... might take me five business days, with Anna's help."

Anna nodded as she digested the information. Food and water.... solar power. They would survive. It was more than they could have gratitude for right now. She sighed and looked around and then felt Shirley give her arm a little squeeze before letting go. Anna smiled a little as she watched Shirley walk up beside Fred and casually slide her hand into his. They were beyond adorable. She glanced between Phoenix and Adum "5 days... we've got nothing but time right?"

Adum nodded.  "Yes, and we can't have you being bored, now can we?"  he asks her.  "Unless you two are ..."  he reconsiders and glances at the older couple.  "Well ... five days maybe two or four times a year.  Right now I am not willing to let the solar panels fall into disrepair."  he looks at Phoenix.  "There is money in the coffers ...."

Phoenix glanced at Anna when she sighed but then returned his attention to Adum.  "Yes, four times a year to make sure, plus after any storms .. although the weather has been perfect ... well, except for being so damn hot."  he then shake his head.  "We could be in Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy territory ... so let's not worry about payment until we find out that we're still on Earth, eh?"  he had caught Adum's abandoned innuendo, but ignored it.  He wasn't sweating from anything but the weather.

Fred took Shirley's hand automatically. Then he nodded.  "Well, if we're not alone, really, we can pay you once we figure out what the hell happened.  Everyone is going to be expected to chip in and pull their weight as much as they can."?  he glances at Adum.  "Pregnant women excepted, of course ... unless that wife of yours can make a mean tea or keep a garden."

Adum winced a little.  "She can be excepted." he offers.  "It may not look right but .. she's pregnant..."  he lets that trail off.  Megan was no cook and .. a gardener .. he couldn't imagine it.  Or he could but dare not laugh at the mental image of his pregnant wife tilling more seed than she was already.

Anna tripped over her own foot at Adum's insinuation and then tried to make her next step after look super casual to compensate. She sensed Phoenix was looking her way but focused on a few kids rushing past them towards the sound of a teenage counselor calling them back to a group of summer campers.

Shirley raised an eyebrow glancing between Adum, Anne and Phoenix and then laughed about Megan "Everyone has their skills. Megan is great with people and brings the best out in them. She'll be great for morale."

Adum chuckled.  "Maybe after the temperature falls ... IF it falls...."  his tie was already loose and the top button undone.  "Right now she's just ... pregnant ..."  he sighed.

Fred looked at Adum.  "Enjoy it, boy."  he ordered.  "Not all of us got to enjoy being vilified for getting the women they love pregnant."  he winks.  The pain of it all was in his past and he was truly joking about it now.  He had his daughter in his life and truth be told, he probably wouldn't have been the most patient about middle of the night feeding time.

Phoenix caught the stumble, but pretended he did not.  It was all part of Anna .. a part he never stopped missing.  "She can shore up morale if it comes to it."  he offered.  They continued to walk towards the beach and he caught some words from the campers.

"Your doing GREAT, Maddy."  Addison O'Brian told a little girl with brown hair that Phoenix thought was Maddy Greene, the police chief's granddaughter.

"Does it have to move so FAST?"  Maddy nearly whined.  "It's not FAIR!"

An older kid laughed.  Tony Penhall.  He was holding a baseball in a glove and preparing to throw it again.  "I'll try to make this one slower, okay Maddy?"

Shirley gave Fred a cheeky little look and then smiled at Adum "Enjoy it all. It goes by faster than you think. All our skills mean we'll get through this, no matter what." She watched the kids playing as they passed with a twinkle in her eyes.

A brown haired girl yelled from the side of the game "You've got it Maddy!"

Fiona Reinhardt bent down near the brown haired girl and added to the encouragement "Bend your knees Maddy. You're doing great. Penny, you're up next. Come on Tony!"

Anna watched the campers too and then the counselors "It's nice for the kids they kept the camp going."

Adum smiled as they passed the park.  "Well, the kids love it, the counselors love it and it keeps the kids minds off of what happened and the uncertainty of it all.  I have the fishermen on the lookout while they are out catching ... and let us know if they spot land, although so far nothing.  Could be they are just concentrating on keeping us all fed.  But there is a shroud of mist around fifty miles in any direction."  he lowered his voice a little bit.  "It appeared the day after Josh had to turn back for lack of fuel and the fishermen are all a little nervous about getting too close to it."

Fred nodded.  "You get a lot of superstitious folks around here because of the Olin.  I figure it is a GOOD omen that it collapsed ... even if it did take a life or two with it.  Maybe that's a good sign.  No proper destruction team could ever tear that place down and now its rubble."

Phoenix took in all the information with a nod.  "No matter how you look at this, it's a new beginning.  Maybe its ultimately a GOOD thing?"

Anna gave Phoenix a small smile "I've been trying to look at it that way too." She looked more seriously at Adum "Mist? God it's like we're in a scifi film isn't it?"

Shirley mused "Well I agree about The Olin....." She shook her head "We may never know. But we can just make the best of it." The group had reached a crossroads for where the walk might go and Shirley looked to Fred and then Adum "Where to gentlemen?"

Phoenix gave Anna a small smile in return.  "Good.  Keep positive!'
Fred looked left and right.  They could go anyplace from here.

Adum grinned.  "It was ... a negative thing for sure."  he looked both ways and was about to make a suggestion when the door to the Wright house opened and Rain March came bounding out.

"Hello!"  she called, already approaching them with a basket.  She all but thrust it at Adum.  "Some more raspberry leaves for your beautiful soulmate!"  she announced.  She had told him it would help Megan's womb and the taste was nice enough.  "And I've been getting the berries ready for the town.

Adum watched her and was suddenly both lifted up and tired.  She had energy and to spare.  He took the basket.  "Thanks, Rain."  he paused.  "Do you know everyone here?"

Fred looked as polite as it was possible for him to look and nodded.

Phoenix smiled.  "Of course I know Rain.  Her soul is almost as beautiful as Anna's."

Anna felt her face go warm but couldn't help but just watch Rain with both welcome and intrigue "Hi I'm Anna.... and Phoenix is overselling me.... but very nice to meet you."

Shirley laughed "I've seen you around town Rain. I'm Shirley Douglas. I'm Megan's great aunt." She looked appreciatively at the basket of raspberry leafs.

Tamela caught up to them again in the middle of the introduction so she simply silently stepped in beside Anna with a nod to Rain and a brief look around, not seeking to interrupt the process.

Adum watched the introductions and smiles at Tamela.  He had his moments with his sister-in-law, but overall ... Megan's sister was his too.  And rain was one of the towns more ... colorful ... characters.

Rain saw Shirley looking at the basket.  "There's plenty."  she announced.  "This is only about a quarter of it.  The rest I'd planned to dry for the winter ... or for when raspberry season ends .. or .."?  she shrugs, seemingly unconcerned with it all.  "Whenever."  she takes in a deep breath.  "Isn't the air WONDERFUL?  So clean and fresh!" she looked a bit unkempt with her locks still growing in.

Fred arched both of his brows.  "I've been breathing it all day ..."  he quipped, having no idea what the young lady was talking about and thinking her a bit batty.  And people called HIM crazy.

Phoenix nodded with enthusiasm.  "I was noticing that, too.  Alex must be over the moon about it!"

Alex gently steps out behind Rain, having overheard the last bits and nods while wiping his hands with a rag "Happy to be right here breathing it on earth Phoenix. Hey...Anna... everyone..." He smiles widely "Sorry, I was up to my elbows in bike chain.." He leans the front of his shoulder lightly on the back of Rain's.

Shirley stifled a giggle and gave Fred a little nudge before flashing a big grin at her other great niece.

Tamela sidestepped towards Shirley and gave her a little hug.

Anna waved at Alex "Hey there bike doctor. Glad to know some of this shift is helping you."

Adum watched, happy to be out of the office and not elbow deep in paperwork.  He liked the job better out dealing with the people.  "So you can breathe better, then?"  he asks, amazed.  He hadn't noticed a thing.

Fred keeps on watching this odd girl, half amused and glad she could be Adum's headache.  Although it was possible she might be a help in their current situation.

Rain leans back almost imperceptibly into Alex.  "If we're still ON Earth.'  she half corrects.  "Although I expect it may be a shift, too.  Like Anna said.  Earth but not OUR Earth." she nods sagely.

Phoenix actually considers Anna's words.  Why not a shift of some kind?  "How's your aunt holding up, Alex?  I know this has to be hard on the family.  And I just .. haven't gotten out.":  he was mourning on his own, not wanting to burden Anna with the pain of losing his lovers.

Alex nods at Adum "Yeah....I haven't even picked up my inhaler." He looks towards the little house next door " I don't know... hanging in there. Helps that she has a friend as it were... well your father in law... but I should check on her today. It's still a lot...." he looks at Anna, thinking about her father and his aunt, knowing about her mother too. They had too much loss in common. He slid an arm around Rain's waist and held onto her.

Anna sees her cousin's look and sighs quietly, turning instead to Tamela "Your dad has a lady friend?"

Tamela nods and chuckles "I know right? Brave broad....Sun's sister... "

Anna felt like she'd been living under a rock "The tangled web just keeps overlapping....." She knew Alex was separated from both his parents now too. Every one kept deferring their own grief for everyone else's. At some point they were all going to crack. Anna glanced at Phoenix, knowing he was in that category too.

Shirley looked curiously at the small home beside the tall red brick one. She'd seen it's twin elsewhere in town. The design was a little different. Clearly a story here to ask Fred about later. For now, she observed all these young folks struggling but persevering. Weird ideas were coming out. Earth but not our earth? Great spirits protect us all.

Adum nodded slowly.  "That's really interesting."  he murmurs.  "Cleaner air.  he gives a slightly nervous snort.  "Maybe we did time shift or something."  he's joking .... mostly.  He looks at Tams.  "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy." he smiles.  His own father was overseas ... and he was wondering if he would ever see his father again.

Fred arches a brow.  Time shift.  Then was he younger or older?  He looks at the smaller house.  It and a few LIKE it had been put up all over town in the spring building boom.  Another thing that seemed to work out in their favor with so many people stranded on Alexandra.  "She's the one that had been planning on some senior activities in the Community Center, I do believe.  If the kids have a camp, maybe we old farts should have something to do besides worry."

Phoenix watched Alex move closer to Rain and wrap an arm around her waist.  Shy little Alex.  Who knew.  He glanced at Anna and then away.  "A bunch of houses went up over the summer.  Turns out it was a good thing.  And they're good environmentally friendly houses, too."  he spoke Fred's thoughts without meaning to.  "Are their plans for people to move into them?  What with bank access cut off?"

Adum nodded.  "A few had been looking here after the Cedar Point quake.  The Reinhardt's, plus Ryan and India for example.  The Council is letting them just go and move in.  We don't have a bank and even if we did, there's no internet, so it would be cut off too."  he looked at Fred.  "And yes ... Connie Reader,  Her daughter lives on the island, too."  it was a slight cushion to the blow, as the woman had lost her son ... Alex's cousin.

Anna gave a noncommittal nod at both Tamela and Adum and then looked at the little house "They're cute. Like a tiny house without the stigma." She joked. Anna glanced up at Phoenix just as he looked away from her and then frowned slightly.

"Still have the Mexican food fart hotbox factor though." Tamela added on to the joke.

Anna couldn't help but stifle a giggle after. Shirley let out a full blown guffaw and directed the next joke at Alex "So much for your fresher air then!"

Alex snorted "Natural emissions don't bother me. But if my aunt plans a Mexican feast family dinner I'll suggest the patio."

Adum grinned.  "Maybe we'll have something ... as the summer progresses.  Get people out and talking."  he suggested.  "I believe Megan is due in August sometime.  It would be nice for her to get out."

Fred laughed.  "Actually a picnic or something sounds like a good idea.  We've never been much for festivals.  Maybe with the Olin gone our good mayor can consider bringing back Halloween ...."

Phoenix smiled, listening carefully.

Rain beamed.  "Well, we probably couldn't have beef, but fish and of course the vegetarian and vegan options ... that would be wonderful!  More garden space!"

Anna couldn't help but smile broadly at the mention of Halloween "You may have to bring back Halloween with all the Alexandra kids who are used to going to Cedar Point plus our kids...it would be good to let them have some fun after this season." She belatedly reacted to Adum "August.....holy shit that's soon. I remember when Megan was into Barbies...." She looked and Rain "I like gardening."

Tamela snorted "Yeah me too. I used to shave their heads for her or put Ken scrubbing the toilet while Barbie and Teresa made out."

Alex couldn't help but laugh at Tamela, shaking a bit into Rain, but otherwise he quietly listened and observed.

Shirley rolled her eyes at Tamela "No shaving the baby's head while your sister's not looking." Anna and Tamela laughed and Shirley replied to Fred and then Rain "I love Halloween too. And we'll need to garden to have pumpkins. I hope some have been planted already!"

Adum chuckled and shook his head.  "I guess if that's what my daughter wants to do .. but what if we have a son?"  he looked at his sister-in-law as if this would be a singular act of male defiance.  Then he looked at his watch.  "Damn.  Have another meeting.  Fred ... we need to catch up with Josh and Hank.'  he waved and headed in that direction.  "See you all later."  he wondered what he would do when his watch batteries ran out, knowing he didn't have the solar variety.

Fred almost started.  "Right right."  he looked eager to get away from talk of Barbies.  "Coming love?"  he asked Shirley.

Phoenix laughed and waved at Adum.  "I'll get started in the morning."  he promised.

Rain beamed.  "They HAVE!" she announced.  We'll have to find more space to plant.  I suggest the woods."  she leaned into Alex as their impromptu guests began to part.

The group dispersed. Tamela said her goodbyes, heading back to check in on Frank. Shirley tugged Fred towards Statutes for a drink and was still trying to convince Adum to take a load off and join them as Anna waved at her cousin and his very beaming lady and followed Phoenix to check on supplies.

Phoenix Moon was glad everything was where Adum said it would be. He had all he needed to maintain the solar panels of Alexandra ... but tomorrow. He made sure he had the keep to the storehouse and then led Anna to the beach to relax a bit. It was getting a little late and most were heading home to their suppers. He'd get to that, too. "So we're all set." he rumbled as he stepped off the grass and onto the sand.

Anna Wright exhaled "It'll be good to work.....oddly. I feel like I've been way too sedentary. I know there wasn't much we could do...and you keep doing all the damn cooking even..." She lightly jokes.

Phoenix Moon grins at her. "I'm a better cook than you are." he teases. "Face it." he looks out over the water. "And it's been good for me to have you. I'm even considering expanding my place for you." he says it very casually like he might say he as considering bok choy in the salad.

Anna Wright laughs at the cooking joke and then just smiles briefly before looking a little taken aback "Oh....well.....I could also just let you have your room back. Not that I'd object to sharing your place longer...but yeah we'd need another bedroom. Are you allowed to just...build?" It dawns on her he hasn't mentioned a landlord the whole time. Maybe that person is no longer. She eyes Phoenix curiously, waiting for more information.

Phoenix Moon shakes his head. "My couch is very comfortable. I've slept on it enough to know." he swallows hard and clears his throat. "Yes. I am allowed to build." he tells her. "I own more than just the record store. I own the whole BUILDING .... Most of my income is from tenant rents." he clears his throat again and blinks hard.

Anna Wright has a look of dawning and then concern "OK....." She searches Phoenix's face and then cautiously reaches for his hand "Nix?" If he lets her take the hand she'll gently tug him towards the log a few steps behind them "Hey...talk to me...."

Phoenix Moon lets her take his hand and moves towards the log. "No .. it's ... just ...." he swallows and sits .. more falling than sitting on the blanket provided. "It .. Sky really pushed me hard to get hat building." he tells her. "Extra income when the farm went under and I was floundering ...." he begins to breathe a little shallowly. "Practical pothead ..." his voice cracks. "Who would have believer it?"

Anna settles beside him but facing him and keeps holding his hand "Practical Pothead.....dude you could write the manual. I guess that makes Sky one too....made........" She runs her finger over his knuckles and then looks at Phoenix with absolute compassion "It's OK to....miss them Nix......it's OK to talk about it.....to feel it..."

Phoenix Moon sighs and blinks again, one tear escaping. "I know it's alright." he sighs deeply. "I adored them. They had their own thing but whenever we got together ..." he sighs again and cries softly. "We were growing apart, you know." he scoffs to himself. "I think I may have known what you felt like .. not wanting to share." he clears his throat roughly again. "Maybe I'm finally growing up, eh?"

Anna Wright smiles and scoots closer, her hip leaning on Phoenix's leg "It's OK." She switches the hand that holds his and slides her hand around his waist, hugging him lightly "It's what it was. Which one of them were you having trouble sharing?" She asks boldly "And maybe it just goes in phases with life....."

Phoenix Moon welcomes her touch and hugs her back. "Sky, of course." he snorts through his tears. "He's such a beautiful spirit." he pauses. "WAS ... a beautiful spirit. I think everyone fell in love with him to some degree."

Anna looks at Phoenix like she clearly finds it heartwarming and nods "Yeah.....he had that affect on people. I heard a funny story about Sky...you might like it. A friend of mine, who he forgot meeting saw him at a little cafe, higher than a kite. He just made friends with a guy sitting there and ate half his nachos. So Sky!" She laughs a bit as her own eyes tear up at the same time.

Phoenix Moon listens to the story and laughs. "Yes, that was him alright. And to think he teased me for becoming a businessman ... at his insistence!" he laughs even as he cries. "I remember telling him about you. He said you sounded uptight. But he came to love you." he gives a mock imperious look. "ALMOST as much as me ... ALMOST."

Anna Wright shifts forward and fully hugs Phoenix now, tumbling over him to the other side, chuckling and crying with him "Compared to you guys, I'm totally uptight. Thanks for putting up with it though...." She jokes as she leans her head on Phoenix.

Phoenix Moon laughs a little. "You're you. Anna. I should have known back then. I'm so sorry." he apologizes. "I tried to be all yours. Back then I was young and .. I don't know." he blew out a breath. "Now I am older. A business owner, landlord and a solar panel ... guy." he hugs her to him again. "Can you stand working with me again? LIVING with me? Because the apartment next door is vacant and I was going to do it anyway ....."

Anna Wright inhales thoughtfully and then tilts her head up to look Phoenix directly in the eyes "Are you asking me to be a roommate...or...." She bites her lip and doesn't finish the whole question. There's the awkward....right there hanging over like a big old fumbly cloud.

Phoenix Moon smiles at her. "Roommates and business partners." he assures her. "But you know how I feel. My bedroom door is always open to you. Always has been, always will be."

Anna starts to exhale at the first part like she had been holding her breath. As he mentioned the bedroom door her breath rushed out of her completely like a dragon breathing fire and her cheeks flushed red to match the heat. She coughed a bit after and then pursed her lips, fighting a grin. Finally she laughed awkwardly "Oh.....you're so much better at this." She buried her face in his chest and breathed and then surfaced "I feel it too....but I might need a little longer." She offered with sincere honesty.

Phoenix Moon watches her and laughs good humouredly. "Take all the time you need." he tells her. "I've always loved your blush. I mean come ON Anna. You've seen me NAKED. Not in YEARS, but STILL." he teases her. He gets a bit more serious. "For now we can just get our little business off the ground with our first non paying customer in this new world with no money." he snorts. "Maybe I am just high? I mean on some seriously fucked up shit." a world without money ..... it boggled even HIS hippy dippy mind.

Anna Wright shrugs against him "Maybe if this goes on forever we'll resort...or evolve back to the barter system? So we keep solar panels in working order. Maybe then someone else offers us free produce....or as you say some seriously fucked up shit. If you feel like a long bike ride we might find that stuff out in my Dad's greenhouse at Sun's.....wherever they are...or not...maybe we'll get a clue." She gave him a little poke in the ribs "Just because I've seen you naked, doesn't mean I assumed I owned the rights to it forever. That's not how consent works." She's being both truthful and teasing and can't help but blush again.

Phoenix Moon nods. "Maybe ... as it is ... the cash is gone ... but the people in this town are better than I thought, to be honest about it. Helping each other out and all." he nods. "We can go later this week." he pauses. "And we never owned each other ... but I was the fool, to be sure. Hindsight and all that."

Anna pulled herself up a little higher on Pheonix's chest and then with her face inches from his said meekly "Maybe I was too uptight back then..." Before she thinks too hard and chickens out she leans in and kisses him lightly on the lips, lingering a bit but not committing to more than this one brave gesture of affection.

Phoenix Moon smiles into the light kiss and brings his hand up to touch her cheek. He looks into her eyes. "We are older and wiser ...." he whispers and leans in for another kiss. Deeper but not passionate.

Anna Wright: Anna giggles into the next kiss at the older and wiser. She appreciated the sentiment but it was also amusing. She finds her lips pressing harder on Pheonix's as the kiss deepened. Damn it felt good to kiss him again......damn......

Phoenix Moon stops it after a few seconds. He'd always loved kissing her. More. But now he found it was more. He really was older and wiser now. "So living on the roof in my little world." he teases. "Scary enough for you? All that pot?" the truth was, while he DID have a roof top garden, it wasn't dedicated to pot. There was much more to it.

Anna Wright catches her breath, slightly thankful Phoenix stopped before she couldn't bring herself to. She did want him, but she wasn't ready and she knew it. Finding her common sense a bit, she stretched and eased off him, answering his questions "Stoned on the roof....should we focus on nets below as well as solar panels? Oh never mind we'll be too lazy to jump..." She laughs as she sits up and then says seriously "Your crop might serve the town in non recreational ways. Depending on how long we're cut off from other medicines.....right?"

Phoenix Moon chuckles. He was also glad the kiss stopped. But then again they had not exactly jumped into bed together in the first place. Even being poly, he was not slutty. That was one of the things that made him love Anna. "It might. I have a medical garden the doctor is already interested in looking at just in case. No more hospital." he looks serious. "But that apartment is the best in the building. Or it will be." he promised her. "You'll love it. he strokes her back absently. "I don't know what happened. Maybe it is some new dimension or whatever. I'm just glad you're here with me now."

Anna Wright: Anna mused "That's a pretty open minded doctor. Which is a good thing." She listened to him talk about the apartment and grinned "I have no doubt Nix.....and I'll help you with the reno." She softens into the motion of his hand on her back with a little sigh "I am too. I am too."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Land … Hmmmm

By Crystal Brewton

Josh Greene landed the helicopter at the gas station and got out.  He was approached by Chuck, the attendant.

“Refuel her, Chuck.”  Josh told him.  “Do the other birds have full tanks?”

Chuck nodded.  “Yes Sir and the reserves are full now.”  he reported.  “Good thing, since we might be cut off from the mainland for a bit, eh?”

Josh nodded as Chuck went about refueling the copters tank, ignoring the younger man as he called after him about the fact that his tank was almost empty.  It shouldn’t have been.

Walking back to the Alexandra Police Department, he checked in, not answering any questions.  He knew he was off duty, technically, but he also knew that his babysitter would not be expecting him.  Whatever had happened to them had knocked out everything … the Ferry had vanished, anything that wasn’t already hard wired into the island itself was disrupted.  He almost called out for Mert, but then realized that, even BEFORE the beginning of this disastrous summer she had retired and moved to the mainland with her husband.  The station felt so much … quieter … without her.  So he only told the cop at the desk that he would be stopping by the mayor’s house and then picking up his granddaughter and going home.  He paused before going through the door to tell him that, effective immediately, gas powered vehicles would be for emergency use only.

Even though he did not walk slowly, he did not run either.  But he also did not take one of the PD’s gas vehicles now that he had made the use of the vehicles emergency only.

Passing the Alexandria Fire Department, he looked through the window and into Hank Stanley’s office.  The Fire Chief was finishing up paperwork, by the look.  He had lost one of his firefighters - Jasmine.. And sighed before Josh knocked on his window and beckoned for him to join him.

Three minutes later, Hank did join him.  As they walked to the corner, Hank remained silent.  He knew his friend well.  The new Police Chief would speak when they got to the mayor’s house.

Mayor Adum Brate had been expecting them and invited them to sit on his back porch, where they could have a modicum of privacy during their meeting.

Drinking of the iced tea he was offered … the summer was suddenly a lot hotter than it HAD been before that quake … or whatever it was.  Josh looked between Hank and Adum, who he knew were waiting on his report on how he found the mainland.  He sighed deeply.

“It’s gone.”

Adum and Hank looked at him for a long moment, blinking in apparent confusion.  So he continued.

“I flew up to the ‘point of no return’, which is a hundred miles further than White Rock.”  he explained to them.  “Then I had to turn around and come back or go down in the water.”

Glasses halfway to mouths, both Adum and Hank froze, staring.

“That’s impossible.”  Hank Stanley declared.

“Maybe, but that’s what happened.”  Josh defended himself.

Adum inhaled deeply and sipped a bit to wet his mouth.  “If I didn’t know better I’d say you headed in the wrong direction.”  he sighed.  “But I know better.”

Josh sighed and looked out over Alexandra Inlet.  “Noone’s GPS works … no ones internet.  Only the hard land lines for LOCAL communication.”

Hank nodded.  “Well, maybe .. I don’t know … I don’t know WHAT to think,”

These three men were logical thinkers … but try and they might … it made no logical sense.

“Well, how about you and Lynch take the other two birds and check the water north and south.”  Adum finally ordered.  “And then you both fly west.  I really hope you find land ….”

So did Josh.

Sliding Doors - reprint from Cedar Point Stories

Author’s Note:

Years ago there was a film called Sliding Doors that starred Gwyneth Paltrow about a woman whose life goes in different but parallel directions when she has some sort of dimensional collide as it were. It wasn’t a particularly amazing film, but the story concept always intrigued me. I’m using that same concept here but not copying the whole plot.

June 21st, 2017, Summer Solstice

The ferry cut through the waves as it made its way towards Alexandra. Anna stood on the upper deck, looking back, feeling the motion but willing and wishing for stillness. There was an aching pit in her gut and she gripped the railing for some stability. Today was the day for the memorial for all the people who had been lost to the last Cedar Point earthquake on May the 7th.  The dead and the town itself were to be mourned. Cedar Point was gone.

It was literally the last earthquake, because it demolished Cedar Point. What was left of the town was no more than rubble and was declared uninhabitable and unsafe. The other half of the town had slid into the sea after the tsunami that had followed the tremors. The Coast Guard and the Red Cross had mobilized to rescue who they could with the help of the remaining members of the Cedar Point Police and Fire Departments.

Anna shuddered at her disjointed memories of that terrible day as the ocean’s spray battered at her face, her expression impassive. She had been pulled from the debris unconscious and it was all still piecing together in her muddled thoughts, her subconscious emerging, and her nightmares. The Lavender Dreams was gone, and her mother with it. Everyone who survived had so much loss to overcome it was hard to just keep breathing and move forward. But Alexandra, their sister city, had opened its arms, and its homes to take in those seeking refuge to rebuild their lives how they could.

She felt the ship slowing and docking and just stood immobile for as long as she thought she could get away with it. Other passengers trudged to the exit, raw from their own struggles and sorrows. Some of Anna’s friends had come on earlier ferries, settled in with closer connections they had with the people of Alexandra. Tamela had Frank, and had simply moved in. Stephanie, Tristan and Michael had all survived and were staying with Michael’s brother’s family. Her younger brother Ryan, his partner, and their sweet baby were being put up by none other than Alexandra’s mayor, Adum Brate and his wife Megan. The Yamadas had suffered great losses too though. Garrett and his boyfriend Ziven hadn’t survived. They had been found in each other’s arms in the rubble. It had been the day they had gotten engaged. Hiroshi Yamada had also never been rescued or found.

Finally, Anna turned around and noticed she was alone on the deck. She had to disembark. She had to take her last steps away from her life in Cedar Point. With nothing but a small backpack she made her way to the sliding doors to the lower decks. Numbly she walked and waited for the doors to slide open. They did, and she took one step through but then an unexpected blast hit like something had exploded, knocking her flat on her back. Her head smacked hard on the metal floor and the world swam in front of her eyes again, like it had in the quake. She felt the odd sensation of being somehow cleaved. Anna lay limp as the blackness enveloped her. At the same time…Anna… walked forward……

Stepping Through

Anna Wright shook her head around as she stepped through the sliding doors, oddly disoriented as her feet found the stairs. What was wrong with her?! She felt dizzy and her ears were ringing. Running her hands along the wall she made her way carefully to the parking level following a few last cars that trickled out. The strange sensations subsided and she caught her breath as she walked. Maybe she was just hungry and dehydrated. No…it wasn’t just her…an alarm sounded and there was shouting. Anna sped up to a jog and made her way quickly off the ferry. As her foot hit the solid ground of the road, another blast hit, knocking her forward. She gripped the pavement for dear life and closed her eyes. When she opened them, there was pandemonium in all directions. She vaguely saw Phoenix, who she was meeting from the ferry, seemingly calling out to her and running towards her.  But when she looked back, the ferry was simply…..gone.

Falling Back

“She’s coming to! Miss….miss can you hear me?”

Anna was vaguely aware of a male voice talking at her and a blurry figure standing over her.

“Ugh….yeah….what the hell……”

She started to sit but the world spun around and a wave of nausea hit her too fast for warning. Anna rolled to her right and vomited in slow painful heaves.

The man leaning over her jumped back a bit but tried to sound comforting “Julie…we have another concussion over here. It’s OK miss, just take it slow……..we’re still figuring out what happened……”

Anna gasped for fresh air and her vision began to focus again. She was still on the ferry but there was no Alexandra Island in sight. They were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no land in sight.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Happy Birthday Chief Greene

She walked into the Alexandra Police station with a small black wheeled suitcase.  Brown pigtails and pink overalls.  No coat, even though it was hardly the height of spring.  It was technically still wintertime.  No more than 6 or 7 years old, she goes up to the front desk, clutching the suitcase handle in one hand and a white envelope tightly in the other.

  Darcy was working the front while Mert was out for a lunch break. She looked down at the sweet looking little girl and smiled a bit "Hey there..." She looked out the door, expecting parents or caregivers to be nearby or chasing after the child any moment "Are you looking for a place to mail your letter?"

She looked up at the lady police officer and swallowed, shaking her head.  Opening her mouth, her soft young voice spoke.  "I'm supposed to give this to Officer Joshua Greene."  she held out the envelope.

Darcy took the envelope and her eyes darted out the door again. She'd worked with kids who's whole lives had been blown to smithereens and the last question she'd ask a scared child was where are your parents. In her past experience, in Afghanistan, the parents were usually dead. She tried to keep her voice casual and said "He's our chief now but it's his day off. Do you think maybe I could help you? My name is Darcy and I used to wear my hair in two braids, just like you. Sometimes the other kids would pull them, especially the rotten boys."

She smiles.  "No.  I am supposed to be with Joshua Greene.  Everything is in there."  she seems nervous but not crying or panicked.  "That's what my Mommy told me before she put me on the Ferry.  Get off at Alexandra, walk all the way down the long street and turn and go to the police station and make sure Officer Greene got that."  she motions to the envelope again.

Darcy frowns a little but not sternly and offers "I can call him.....but I need to check this letter first." Darcy has a sinking feeling she can't explain. She opens the letter and scans the paper and forces herself not to visibly react. the letter says:

Dear Dad,

This is Madeline.  She is my daughter.  I named her after those books you used to read me when I was little.  Remember?  Anyway.  Things aren’t going real well for me again, and if I don’t do something then she’ll get taken away from me, too.  So I am sending her to live with you.

Please forgive me


Also enclosed is a birth certificate card which lists her mother as Rachel Greene and no name on the father's line as well as a notation of Madeline's BC Health card number for any medical needs.

"OK...let me see if he's at home. Hang tight OK?" she picks up the phone and calls. It starts ringing.

She sees the frown, but doesn't look too concerned.  When the lady mentions making a phone call, she nods and stands where she is, waiting.

Josh Greene was finishing his morning coffee when his phone began to ring.  It's his day off ... taken to give himself a long birthday weekend.  But it's the station.  Of course.  But he's the Chief now so there really was no such thing ass a day off, technically.  He reaches for the phone and taps the icon to accept the call "Greene."  he doesn't bark, he simply speaks.

Darcy thinks on how to word it as she hears him answer "Good morning Chief. Sorry to bother you at home on your day off but I need to come by with...something....Are you home for a bit?" There was literally no way she could explain it over the phone. She looks at Madeline and then back to the other officers working and waves one of them over to take her place.

Josh hears Darcy's voice and arches his brows.  Something for him?  Maybe a misplaced present?  Not likely.  Few people, even after all these years, even knew his birthday, never mind dropped presents off at his work for him.  "Sure.  I don't have any plans today, so come on over."   he's ready to end it there, curious as to what could be going on.

Frank sees the wave and comes on over, looking at the kid.  She's overheard Darcy's side of the conversation and looks at the child curiously, as if there is something not quite right.  But she says nothing about that.  Before she can say anything, she answers the phone, taking business as usual.

Darcy gives Frank a grateful look and walks around the counter to the child. Looking down at her she says "Let's deliver this to Chief Greene OK? He lives close by....." She's hoping this kid will trust her and walk with her. She offers the letter back to Madeline as insurance that she's really offering to help.

Another lady cop joins the first, even though it takes the little girl a while to figure out it IS a lady.  But then she nods, her face still not smiling and takes the letter with n "OK."  One thing she DID know was that she should trust the police.

Darcy looks mildly relieved and gives Frank a look back that says she'll explain later before opening the door and holding it for Madeline. It's a short distance to Josh Greene's houseboat and Darcy tries to keep the walk cheerful by pointing things out that might interest her "There's a playground through there.....and we have a great ice cream shop here on the island. What's your favourite flavour of ice cream Madeline?"

Madeline walks and looks at the playground with a small smile.  She thinks about it.  "I ... don't know."  she nearly whispers.  "Ice cream is expensive."  she shrugs.  "I've never had any, so ..."  but then she stops as they pass one of the buildings with no sidewalks in sight but her eyes grow wide as she looks at the helicopter.  "Wow!"

Darcy again has to work not to react to the child's admission that ice cream was something she'd never had but then beams at her reaction to the helicopter "You like those? I like them too. Chief Greene and I both fly them. Maybe you'll get a ride someday. Best way to see the world." She doesn't call Josh her grandpa until there's confirmation from his end but she has a feeling this kid is in fact connected to him. In no time they're at his door and Darcy poises to knock, with a smile at Madeline and then does knock lightly.

Madeline's eyes grow even wider at the suggestion that she might get to go in one of these someday.  She doesn't say anything, but nods as if awed.  Arriving at a boat on the water, she looks around, clutching her little suitcase tight in her hand as Darcy knocks.  This is it.

Josh hears the knock and opens the door almost immediately.  He looks at Darcy and then looks further down.  Outright shock appears in his eyes, but is gone a second later.  His eyes move past them both, as if looking for someone else.  "This is .... what you called about?"  he asks, finishing his scan and now hiding disappointment.  "Please ... come in .. come in ..."  he backs through and gives them room to enter, taking in the girl.  "Would you like some hot chocolate?"  he addresses the child.  "It's cold outside.  Did you lose your coat?"  he looks at Darcy, a hundred unasked questions clearly written on his face.

Darcy exhales and then says gently "Madeline....do you want to give him..the letter?" Darcy would make a point of asking around to the other staff, particularly the ones with kids at home and try to come up with some winter clothes for Madeline, but the letter had to come first.

Madeline nods and steps in, because it IS cold to her.  "Please, sir."  her little voice is hard to hear now.  Darcy's voice makes her start a little, as she was staring up at this big man and again she nods, holding out the envelope like an offering.

Josh closes the door behind them and nods to his couch.  "Please.  Sit."  he watches the girl and reaches out, taking the envelope gently.  Looking inside he takes out the letter and other documents and pales visibly, nearly stumbling into a chair bear the couch and absently putting the documents on an ottoman while he looks at the letter, clearly reading it more than once.

Darcy looks truly compassionate. She can't even imagine how hard this all is for Josh but his reaction is the confirmation she was looking for. She steps out of her shoes and goes to the couch to sit, patting the spot beside her for Madeline in case she's unsure "Let's give him a  minute to read. Madeline, do you like to read?" She could be too young, but part of her wonders if she's read the letter herself, if she can and if she fully knows what's going on here.

Madeline ties off her little shoes, revealing worn socks, one of which has a huge hole in the toe.  Following Darcy to the couch, she hops on top of it.  When she answers Darcy, she is still staring at Josh.  "I'm still learning how."  she admits, her feet dangling.

Josh reads the letter several times and all the documents twice.  He is not known to deal with children; leaving it to other officers and now, subordinates.  Most assume he doesn't like children.  Some know his story and why he often hides behind stoicism.  Finally, he looks over at the couch.  "Well, it is nice to meet you, Madeline."  his voice rumbles, but its a kind rumble.  He pauses.  "Do you have an older brother or sister?  And where are THEY?"  he looks confused and then blinks as if he forgot something.  "Hot chocolate.  Right.  Let me make some real quick.  but while I do that, let me know, eh?"

Madeline almost smiles when the man says it is nice to meet her.  She looks a little confused by the question of a sister or brother and replies as the man also mentions hot chocolate.  "I don't have any sisters or brothers."  she tells him.  "There's only Mommy and Neo.  He moved in after Caesar moved out after ..."  she seems to consider.  "Hack."

Josh listens as he goes into the kitchen and begins to make instant hot chocolate in a soup mug.  His back is turned but he almost slams the door tot he microwave closed before hitting a button.  As the microwave does its magic, he turns back to Madeline.  "Is Hack your Daddy?"  he asks, as there is no name in the Father's Name space of the child's birth certificate.

Madeline shakes her head firmly.  "No, sir!"  she replies.  "They were always saying 'that's not my kid, you deal with her.' to Mommy."

Josh nods, slowly and is silent until the microwave beeps.  he takes out the cup and stirs.  Then he brings it to her.  "Well, THIS is DOUBLE hot chocolate."  he tells her like its a treat.  "I used to make it for your mother on Saturday mornings."  he moves to a television stand and kneels, taking out a thick DVD movie collection.  "I want to show you something else I used to show your mother.  She liked it when she was little, but they made new ones since she grew up.  "It's a show called Madeline.  You watch it and I'm going to go outside with Darcy and talk for a minute."  he puts a DVD in the player and selects Play.  "If you need me you just tap on this window and I'll come RIGHT back in, okay?"  he nod to Darcy to follow him out.

Madeline smiles and wraps her hands around the warm cup, then giggles.  "A show named after me?  Wow!"  and when he says he is going out, she looks at the window and nods.  "Ok ...."  it looks like she is considering more and at last she whispers.  "Grandpa."

Josh freezes just a second before he goes out on the bow with Darcy.  "Jesus."  he breathes.

Darcy gives Madeline a sweet look before walking out. She had really worked to fight a wince at what Madeline had said about her mother's...partners and it probably reflected in her eyes a little. She looks worriedly at Josh as they're out "I couldn't explain over the phone. I'm sorry. How can I help you? I mean I could find her some proper clothes to start....."

Inside Madeline watches the show and drinks warm chocolate in a warm apartment on a boat.  Nothing like this had EVER happened to her before.  If this was life with her grandfather as opposed to her mother, she liked it better.  A happy/sad feeling.

Josh sighs deeply.  "Well, I guess this means my daughter is still alive."  he blows out a breath.  "Alright ..... Proper clothes are a start.  Thank you."  he considers.  "The name on the birth certificate is my daughters but the identification number is a phony .. which is probably why i couldn't ever find her."  he bites his lip.  "It's a long shot, but get Wright on finding These Hack and Neo and Caesar people.  Especially this Neo.  Those sound like Hacker names to me.  My daughter always loved computer guys.  Probably a dead end, but."  he blows out a breath.  "I'll ... get to know her, but also take her to meet Susan.  She looks thin to me.  I hope she isn't malnourished.  And .... a genetics test, if that's even possible from grandparent to grandchild.  Just to make sure."  he bites his lip.  "And I guess I'd better consider bedroom furniture for her.  My guest room isn't really set up for a seven year old."  he scoffs.  "She and I have the same birthday you know....."  he rubs at his forehead.  "And I'd love to now what happened to the baby she left here pregnant with fourteen years ago.  That letter makes it sound like it was taken by Social Services, doesn't it?"  he sounds like he almost wants her to contradict him.

Darcy listens intently "We may need more than just their code names unless Wright's some kind of hactivist nark. Do you want me to take Madeline to Susan TODAY? How about I go check in with  Sam, ask a few people about girl's clothes, and then come back to you two. I'd love to let the kid just feel safe with you while I sort details. And I think as long as you have something for her to sleep on, the rest can wait." Darcy thinks for a minute "That birth certificate said...today? Is it YOUR birthday TODAY Sir?"

Josh shrugs.  "He's pretty good with a computer."  he looks at the back of the clinic building.  "No ... Susan can wait.  No kid wants to see the doctor on their birthday."  He smiles.  "I hope she feels safe.  Man ... a grandchild." then he grins.  "Yes.  Today is my birthday.  And hers, which is more important."  he argues and reaches for his jeans pocket and his wallet.  He pulls out about 200 in cash.  "Take this and, if you have to pay for another with your own card, let me know and I will pay you back."  he is still absorbing, but cops has to take things in quickly.

Darcy takes the cash "Understood Sir. I have one frivolous request on Madeline's behalf, especially knowing it IS her birthday, and yours. She told me she's never had iced cream. I'd like to bring a tub back with me as well as the clothing. Do you have any favourites?" She smiles a bit "and Happy Birthday Chief."

Josh grins a little.  "Never had ice cream?"  he sounds amazed.  "Yes, bring back a tub.  I am partial to chocolate chip cookie dough because it was like two treats in one."  he admits.  "And thanks.  Oh, and let it be known you're now part of an investigation into a child abandonment."  he sighs and looks at the door.  "You do your thing.  I'll ... get to know my granddaughter...."  he looks a little frightened.

Darcy leaves her chief to his new family challenge and sets upon her tasks. She checks in with Sam and gives him the three names, what sound like code names really, of the men who may have lived with Rachel Greene and her daughter. She also asks him to run the other checks relating to what may have happened to the older child. She does let both Frank and Sam know what's going on and begins to ask around to the other staff with younger children about extra winter clothes or good places in town to get them. Vincent is a man sized child so anything she's bought for him just comes from places she'd shop for herself.

Denise, one of the constables, has a daughter just a little older than Madeline though and offers to let Darcy come get a box she was about to donate to Goodwill. It's chocked full of great outer wear in decent shape. There's assorted clothes for day to day wear, a winter coat, a rain jacket and a decent pair of rubber boots as well as a pair of extra sneakers. Jackpot! She does go and purchase some new socks and underwear from a place in town Denise recommends. She also grabs a hairbrush, some elastics and barrettes and a toothbrush as well as some tear free kid's shampoo.

Despite being close to Josh's place again she makes another circuit because the last two items are perishable. She picks up a small cake from Earthcakes, not using Josh's cash. This is her gift to the two of them and then get s a tub of the ice cream he requested last, and then heads back over. Darcy knocks again, this time hours later than the first time.

Josh goes inside when Darcy leaves and sits with Madeline as they watch Madeline.  They watch the show and talk.  He’s amazed they are getting along so well in a way.  But he also asks questions, but it is soon clear that the child knows very little.  She is, after all, only six.

What made Josh the saddest after having his granddaughter abandoned into his care by his daughter was that is seemed that Rachel had lost her other child.  If he believed the note, she had abandoned Madeline because she was near to losing her as well.  But at least this time … she had decided to reach out to contact her estranged father.

He’d collected Madeline shows, which he watched for nostalgia’s sake.  Usually when he was in his deepest and darkest depressions.  Now, there was light .. and watching the show with Madeline .. he found himself happy.

The show was ending and Josh was about to suggest he make lunch when the knock comes, announcing Darcy’s return.  He opens the door, a more relaxed smile on his face.  “God, what’s all THIS?”  he is surprised at how laden down she is.  He reaches for a large box that seems to be full of clothes.  “Come on in … ugh ...lets see … um … put stuff … wow what is all this?”  he’s touched.

Darcy exhales, setting more down "Denise had a lot to share. She was about to donate this box but it's all in really good shape." She hands him back probably more change than he's expecting "Here, I didn't need it all because of her. She says she still has summer stuff to go through later too." She sets a box that's very obviously a cake on the counter so it doesn't get bumped and smiles at Madeline "How was your show named after you? All those little French girls..." She jokes, remembering it a bit.

Madeline sees a lot of packages when Darcy comes back and she smiles, although not because of any of the packages.  "I love it!"  she proclaims.  "And Josh says I can call him Grandpa and I can live here.  On a BOAT!  It's better than the FERRY was.  I'd never been on a ferry before and this is so much better and I'm going to have my own room and the bed is HUGE!  Not like a couch at ALL!"  she bounces up and down on the couch, clearly more relaxed than she had been a few hours before.

Josh helps move some of the stuff around after an odd look at how much money she gives him back.  "I was about to suggest lunch.  Want something?  Hot dogs?  Hamburgers?  Peanut butter AND Jelly?  That's about where my talent in the kitchen ends."  he says to both of them.  "Madeline, you can change clothes.  Take the box into your new room and wear whatever you like."  he tells her.

Madeline's eyes grow big.  "Hamburgers?!"  clearly it's a favorite.  But then her eyes grow huge at the box of clothes.  She hops down and looks into it, as if its a bottomless put full of toys.  Picking up the sealed packages of socks and underwear, she sniffs.  "Yea ....  Thanks Darcy ....  "  she launches herself at Darcy and hugs both of her legs hard.  Then she grabs the box and drags it into her room, closing the door behind her.

Josh looks at Darcy when the door closes.  "Yea.  Thanks Darcy .. and Denise.  I think I will stop giving her a hard time."  he puts the ice cream in the freezer.  "Burger?  I only cook like three or four things, but I do them well?  I pout my burgers on Kaiser rolls...."

Darcy looks taken aback at the leg hug and then looks down at Madeline sweetly and pats her on the head before she runs off with her new box of treasures "You're welcome Sweetie."

She turns to Josh "I'd love one thanks. She's so grateful.....that's how you know she really needs this......and you Josh." She drops the formalities and addresses him person to person.

Madeline spends some time her new room looking at the clothes and setting them out on a bed that may not seem like much to an adult but is huge to her.  Tears come out of her eyes, but they are totally silent.  She tries to find something to wear, but there are quite a few options.

Josh watches her go and has a small grin on his own face as he pulls out some preformed hamburger patties and a frying pan.  He gets those started and nods.  "Yes.  Sounds like things were rough for Rachel."  he keeps his voice down.  "This is ... quite the surprise but ... It's a nice surprise.  Hopefully she is healthy .. I can also get her in the school, now that I think about it.  VanBuren is all settled in as the new principal, so ... it shouldn't be too hard on her."  he considers.  "My problem might be in child care.  A babysitter until seven at night ...  I think I can take a lot of work home with me ... give the night shift a break.  Maybe Addison O'Brian or Fiona Reinhardt."

Darcy watches Josh work and listens "Maybe Fiona and Addison could share that. I know Vincent says Fiona has some after school stuff like choir but not every night. I'm sure Addy's the same. I think the school would be a good place for her....especially without Spanner."

Josh considers.  "Does Vincent babysit?"  he wonders.  "The problem with my job ... well you know the schedule is hardly 9-5.  I'll think of something.  There's talk of a summer day camp also.  At least I know she'll make friends."  he nods to himself.

Darcy grins "I don't think Vincent want to babysit. Fiona applied at that day camp and tried to talk him into applying too....and he was a little hesitant. He likes kids, but he's not drawn to that. I'd ask the girls. I'm sure we can work it out for you and Madeline."

Josh chuckles.  "Makes sense.  I'll do that.  I'ready booked this time off ... turns out I'm going to need it getting to know her."  he sighs.  "I'm a bit out of practice entertaining a 6 year old."

Darcy laughs "Well no time like the present. Every kid is different too but she seems very easy to hang out with."

Josh nods.  "Believe it or not, her mother was a pretty easygoing kid ... until she hit puberty .. but even then she was more .. curious than anything."  he flips the burgers.  "I think her experimentation's led to a lot of her troubles.  And her mother ... wasn't the ...  best influence." he shrugs.  "Not happy as a cops wife ... or maybe just not happy with me .. or my hours."  he blows out a breath and goes into the fridge for tomatoes and lettuce.  "Water under the bridge.  God ... I finally stop looking for Rachel and ... now I have Madeline."  but he has a small smile on his face.

Darcy just nods quietly for awhile and then offers kindly "Fresh start for both of you maybe. And maybe it will bring Rachel back this way...someday. But what do we do if we...find her? Do you want to press that, given what's just happened? I mean if you back her into a  corner...."

Josh sighs as he takes out three plates.  "Maybe.  If she were to knock on that door NOW ... she'd be under arrest.  But we'll see.  Maybe is Madeline is older ... I'll let HER decide.."  he takes in a huge breath and raises his voice.  "Madeline.  Burgers are ready!"

Madeline is looking herself over.  She has changed into fresh underwear and socks as well as a pretty blue dress that is just a little too big for her.  It still looks nice .. and to Madeline's eyes ... new.  She opens the door and comes out.  "Where do we sit?"  she wonders.

Josh looks at her and nods.  "Well first, you have to tell me what you want on your burger."  he tells her nodding to a plate as he opens a Kaiser roll.  "Lettuce, tomato, pickle...."  he hums.  "Avocado?  Onions?"  well I don't have avocado, to be honest."

Madeline giggles.  "I don't even know what an avocado IS."  she tells him.  "Um ... lettuce and cheese and ... mustard, please?"

Josh grins.  "It's something some people put on burgers.  I don't get it."  he slices off  cheddar cheese.  "But cheese ... VERY good choice."  he looks at Darcy.  "And you, Darcy?"

Darcy chuckles "I love avocado. I'll get one so you can try them Madeline. You can mush them up and make guacamole. Great for corn chips. Cheese, lettuce and tomato and pickle for me please. Do you have any mayo Chief."

Josh mock rolls his eyes at Darcy as he places the cheese on the burgers and covers them to help it melt.  "I DO have mayo."  he turns and puts everyone's burgers together, opting for everything except mayo on his own.  Then he uncovers the burgers and sets them with their melted cheese on the rolls.  "Lunch is served."  he announces and brings all three plates to the table like a professional waiter.  "I worked my way through college waiting tables."  he explains nodding to a chair for Madeline to sit.

Madeline watches it all and giggles.  "I'd like to try it."  she tells Darcy and moves to the table when her grandfather nods to it.  She stares at the sandwich for a long time before she picks it up at an encouraging nod from Josh.  "Thank you."  she is able to say before taking a big bite and beginning to eat, moaning to show she likes it.

Darcy takes Josh's eye rolling with a grain of salt and looks cheerful to receive her food "Waiting tables can be brutal. I did a few rounds of that too. This looks great, thanks." She watches Madeline's reaction before she takes her first bite and giggles "Ok, kid approved. I'm in." She happily eats.

Josh watches them with a smirk.  The few things he CAN cook, he can cook WELL.  "You doubting your Chief?"  he scoffs and then takes a first bite.  After chewing and swallowing, he looks at Madeline.  "Do you have a nickname?"  he asks, half hoping to slow the child down.

Madeline shakes her head, her eyes big and her mouth full.  But she swallows and speaks.  "No.  I'm just Madeline."

Josh nods and stands, going to the fridge and taking out three sodas.  Bringing them back he sets them down and opening one for the little girl.  "I hope this is alright for you, Darcy."  he offers and looks at Madeline.  "That's so formal."  he considers.  "What about Maddie ... or Mads?"  he asks.  "Like friends, eh?"

Maddie beams and takes the pop.  "What do you think, Darcy?"  she asks, eagerly.

Darcy smiles "I had faith in your cooking but kids are always the best judges." She nods at the soda "Thank you." Listening and the looking at Madeline she says "It's you who has to like it, because nicknames stick. What do you like?" She offers back.

Josh smirks and takes a drink of his pop, then looks at Madeline.

Madeline looks between the adults and bites her lip.  Clearly she is afraid of making a 'wrong' choice.

Josh looks at her.  "She's right.  You have to pick it.  Not me." he tells her.  "Sounds like you've always been called Madeline ... but now ... pick something for me to call you, even if everyone else calls you something else.  Makes it special, between us?"

Madeline chews on her lip and looks down and then up ad her grandfather.  "Maddy?"  she whispers and raises her voice a little.  "Maddy."

Josh nods, then smiles.  "Then finish your burger, Maddy."  and he winks at her.

Maddy beams.  "Ok, Grandpa."  and she picks the burger up to finish it.

Darcy looks between them with an expression that suggests her heart is melting watching them connect. She finishes her burger too and then offers to take the plates when the others are done "I can wash up before I take off. It was lovely."

Josh clears his throat, as his own heart melts a little bit and finishes his burger.  He nods at Darcy.  "Sure, that'd be helpful.  And thank you, Darcy.  I'll see you at work in a few days."

Maddy finishes her burger and watches the adults.  The day is very happy/sad for her, but she knows she is happy.

Darcy makes short work of the dishes and leaves them to dry in the rack before saying a brief goodbye to let Josh and Maddy have their time. She leaves with a full belly and a warm feeling. This was a year for people who needed family to come together.