So, it was next winter after Christmas that Pop and me had a bust up. I got to figuring he was taking me for granted (again); and he got to thinking I was going my own way too much (‘unreliable’ was how he put it). But it was different this time somehow; I guess that was ‘cause I wasn’t the same person I’d been before all those things happened last summer. During the Fall, Evan had showed me some stuff before he’d decided to go back to Chapel Hollow; and then I dreamed a few things while napping on Father Boulder too. Anyway, Pop yelled at me once too often, so I packed up and left. Which was kind of a bummer since Willow had sent a letter saying she and her mean Aunt Elissa were coming back to try to find some more skilliau round about Easter. It would have been good to see her again (and I figured after last year I wouldn’t have anything to worry about from her aunt). But I was fed up, so I left. I figured I’d go back after a bit – maybe at Easter so I could see Willow too (and maybe learn a bit more from her). I knew the real reason Pop was mad was because of Mom (they were trying to work things out; but it was pretty rocky going). But I also decided it was time he learned to think about my feelings first, instead of me always having to think about his.
I didn’t go far. I just hopped on the bus that came through the town by Sauterelle Lake and took it as far as it would take me. There’s a diner opposite the bus station in Spores Ferry; and it had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. It was the first thing I saw when I got off the bus and went in; and they said they’d give me a try. One of the nice things about now being earth, not air, is that you can cook anything (and I mean anything) and it tastes fantastic. I used to be an OK cook; now I was a fabulous cook – the kind that could become some celebrity chef, not that I wanted to. That diner’d always done good trade. It couldn’t not do, because of where it was. Lots of people would stop in there to pick up something to eat before they got on the Greyhound to go to Portland or further. But once word got out about my cooking, it started to be the place to go. For normal days off, that is. It was still a diner, after all. If you wanted a fancy night out, with the wine, and the nice music, to impress a lady, you’d go to one of the formal restaurants in town. But for ordinary meals, like getting a burger and fries or BBQ chicken dinner, you couldn’t do better.
Pretty soon the Sitka State students ‘discovered’ the place, which meant every evening there’d be a group come in. At first I couldn’t understand it. All I knew about university came from those old time Hollywood films like Daddy Long Legs and High Time and they’re all in residence in those films; but Jeannie’d been a waitress there for years and explained they all complained about the food at the cafeteria so at least once a week students would eat out. I’d been working at the Spores Ferry diner a little over a month when Kim came in.
* * * * *
So after several months of dorm food, we realised Harrison and Josh had been right back in September. It wasn’t up to much. Or maybe it was just we were getting tired of the same old, same old. I mean there’s only so many ways a cafeteria can cook pork chops, isn’t there? Even the salad bar seemed a little tired. People had said good things about the diner near the bus station, which used to be kind-of blah; but apparently they had a new short-order cook. So a group of us decided to try there. Funny thing is, I don’t really like meatloaf. I never order it; but Josh did and he told me to try a bite and he was right.
Anyway, we whiled away most of the evening, first with a meal, then coffee and dessert. It was far enough into the semester we’d got into a routine of not studying; and assignments weren’t due yet, so no one thought anything of avoiding the books for a whole evening. It was the first time I’d been there, so I got out my sketch pad and some oil pastels I’d been given at Christmas. Josh and the rest of his group didn’t mind. They were deep into a discussion about the college production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie that the Drama Club was planning in a couple of months. I started doing this drawing of the meatloaf, except it didn’t end up looking much like food. None of my pictures really look like the things I draw; but this one was really different, even for me. I took a photo and emailed it to Dad as soon as I got back to Spangler Hall, who of course forwarded it to Henry, who raved about it. He said it was my best yet, and if eating something I didn’t like made me do that drawing, he couldn’t wait to see what steak and fries did. All of which meant next week, when Jaimie and I were totally turned off by the college dinner (which happened to be meatloaf), the first place I thought of was the diner.
The place was pretty packed and the only place left to sit was at the counter, near the hatch the waitresses use to call the orders through and get the food. So while we were waiting for our orders to come we got to see the cook work; and I got out my sketch pad and started to draw. The funny thing about that picture was just how much colour I used. I mean, I always use colour but this one used them all; but it still looked great. Normally if you try to put too much into one picture it ends up a bit of a mess; and also it’s hard to get the colours right with pastels ‘cause they’re already made up (not like paints where you make your own colours). But for once the colours all came out exactly how I wanted. At the end Jaimie was just staring at me, which was odd. By now she’d seen me draw enough she was used to it. She said I’d become even more intense than usual, and kept on drawing while I ate (which is pretty weird) and seemed to become ‘more’ (which made no sense at all but she couldn’t explain it better). This picture actually had a bit of shape to it so you could see it was a person and the waitress asked who I’d been drawing; I told her the cook. She laughed at that and called him out of the kitchen to see.
* * * * *
Jeannie told me two girls out front “wanted to pay their compliments to the chef,” which was funny because this is a diner after all, not some fancy French restaurant. But when I asked her what she meant she just said I had to see. I’d do a lot for Jeannie; she’s not had it easy but she’s always cheerful, and she’s good at her job, and she helped me a lot when I first started work there, so I went. First thing I noticed was both the girls had pretty substantial auras – not like most folks – which made me think back to last summer. They’d also brought a Gecko with them. He was curled round the neck of one of them; but almost as soon as I got there his head darted down and he bit my wrist.
“Hey!” I pulled back my hand back pretty quick. “You’re not supposed to bring pets in here,” I said. “Didn’t you see the sign on the door? Seeing eye dogs only."
“You can see him?” The girl who asked looked at me kind of hard, and grabbed my hand, made a few gestures, and muttered a few words, and that mini volcano started erupting again, the way it did last summer after Evan did it.
“Ilmonishti,” she said, sounding puzzled, “but I’ve not met you before. Which clan do you belong to?”
At which point I realised she must be another of Evan and Willow’s relatives.
“Sauterelle clan, I guess,” I said.
She frowned. “I’ve not heard of them."
Which wasn’t exactly surprising, since I’d made it up on the spot. But Sauterelle Lake’s where I come from and I wasn’t ashamed of it. Particularly after Father Boulder adopted me as his own. I wasn’t about to take anything from one of her family; if there was one thing I learned last year it was to stand up for myself. She didn’t stay frowning though; she seemed kind of pleased about meeting me and muttered something about this being one on Harrison, and her smile really transformed her face.
“Salt between us,” I said.
She looked really startled, then down at her plate, which held the remains of the burger and fries she’d had. “You’re the cook? But, then….” Her voice trailed off as she looked round the diner. “They’re all…oh, my….”
“Indeed, Daughter,” said the Gecko.
* * * * *
We may have got off to a ropy start but Rugee had vouched for Nick; and a Presence cannot be wrong. The cousins and I had got into a habit of meeting once a week in the little courtyard with the water fountain. From there we would go to the conifer grove for a thanks giving ceremony. At first we had to do a warding to make sure we weren’t interrupted by Domishti; as winter set in, the cold kept outsiders away. Annis and Barney came sometimes, with Rupert (but not too often because they said the cold wasn’t good for the baby). And we invited Nick to join us. He wouldn’t come at first. In fact it took weeks for him to agree. He kept saying he had to work; but it was clear that was just an excuse. In the end he came, he said, because he was curious.
The fountain was turned off in late October; the campus guide says Sitka State doesn’t want it to freeze in winter. It was February now but there was still a bit of ice in the pool where some water had been left. I guess there had been enough rain it hadn’t all evaporated. Nick took his gloves off and put his hands on it and they sank in. His face looked a bit blank while he trelled. After a bit he said he could hear Sauterelle Lake. (The water that flows through the fountain comes from there.)
There was a stillness to the grove. We didn’t wear any robes. It was too cold and they aren’t really needed, just custom. Josh had brought candles which we lit and we said a prayer. Normally that’s all – quite short really. There is immense power to this place, which is why we chose it; but it’s always been quiescent. Not this time. It was as if the Power had just been waiting for Nick to come. The earth beneath our feet became sort of pliable, and we all sank ankle deep into it, except Nick. It rose up around him and over him, and he started to speak. I couldn’t really make out the words but they were old words, Ilmonish words, even though by that time Nick had told us more about himself so I knew he didn’t really understand our ways. Josh did a ‘things-seen-and-unseen’ and the air was full of Presences, which sort of slipped out of the trees and floated down around us, while the earth moved.
* * * * *
Father Boulder tasted sort of metallic here, not unlike Sauterelle, but not the same. He rumbled a bit and asked what I wanted. I guess he wanted to know why I’d gone away, so I told him it was just temporary. No way would I not go back. Which is good because it seems my little sister is there now; and she’s found her way to Father Boulder too. It was kind of interesting tasting her through dirt. Maybe I’m getting used to these kind of things happening round me; because there was a time when I would have thought that was yucky; but it just seemed kind of what I expected this time.
The grove changed. There were baby dawn redwoods sprouting up from the ground and some of the Presences that had been floating around melted into them. They had their own homes now instead of having to share with the oldsters, so everyone was happy. The whole thing didn’t take that long, though while it was going on it felt like a lifetime. When we left the grove afterward we discovered the fountain had started again. The water was warm (you could see the misty haze where it met the cold air above it) so no worries about it freezing and breaking the fountain.
Geologists and biologists are apparently all excited about the changes; and Sitka State has just been awarded a government grant to study the volcanic micro-vent that they’ve decided must have opened up in the grove and made the fountain hot and led to the new trees growing there. It was all over the front page of the local newspaper when the award was announced. The scientists in charge have hired a bunch of locals to help. No surprises it was Josh and Annis and other Ilmonishti who got the jobs. I asked Jaimie why she didn’t apply; but she said it was for people with water or earth alignment, not air. She looked a bit huffy before she said it was an ‘experiment in collaboration.’ (When she came down from her high horse she explained normally her family would avoid working with scientists but this time they’d been given the sign they ought to be involved.)
I’m still slinging burgers and frying fries at the diner; but I go up to the grove at least once a week. Pop wrote the other week to say things are going OK with Mom but Granddad wasn’t doing too good (seems he had a cold that went to his chest). So come summer I reckon I’ll go back home. It’s where I belong; besides I have to help Father Boulder with my little sister.