‘I thought it would have been shinier.’
‘What?’ Lolita raised a single eyebrow in the way that, weeks ago, Beckman felt only she could, before remembering that all women had some form of “Really, dufus?” disguised as something less overtly condescending / challenging / disbelieving*. (* delete as applicable).
He pressed on regardless. ‘I thought it would have been, you know, shinier. More metallic.’
‘Is that really what you think?’ There was no actual eyebrow this time, but an eyebrow lay buried in the tone.
‘What do you want me to say?’ (He’d learned that this is a good standby phrase, given no man on Earth ever fully knew what any woman was thinking, even one he might be betrothed to.)
‘You could accuse me of joking. Teasing. Lying.’
‘I may not know all your foibles, but it doesn’t strike me as a joke, and it can’t be a lie.’
‘Why can’t it be a lie?’ she asked.
‘Because we met on account of you calling me dishonest.’
‘I said you were likely to be.’
‘Either way, you’d be a heel to lie to me. Plus, if we’re getting married, that kind of thing needs a bedrock of honesty.’
‘If you’d ever let me plan the date.’ She rolled her eyes.
‘Sure, hijack a discovery like this,’ he waved a hand towards the apparently empty space five yards in front of them, ‘To kick my ass about your hot topic.’
‘Trust me, honey, when a girl hears wedding bells, there is no other topic more important.’
‘You might have warned me about that.’
‘For a guy who’s seen half the country and met like a million people, you don’t know a hell of a lot.’
‘Enough with the flattery.’ He flashed a grin.
She poked her tongue out.
Such was the not unfamiliar coda to their exchanges—and he loved her more for it. It kept him young and vibrant—not that he’d felt anything like young and vibrant during the past decade. He’d been on a trundling treadmill until she’d veritably jabbed the Stop button and sent him careering backwards into her arms.
He returned his attention to the lack of a view they’d come here to witness.
Well, I was only being honest—I did expect it to be shinier. Grander. Strangely alien.
Blame a guy for having unrealistic expectations based on a misspent youth in front of the TV?
He paced warily, taking extreme care not to get too close to something he couldn’t see or touch. Or smell. Or hear. Or taste, even if he got close enough, which he was in no way tempted to do.
Are you tempted? Of course you are. A tiny part. Come on—curiosity—it’s how we’re built. It’s what drives innovation. An inquisitive mind is a great mind.
Except you are a lightbulb salesman in a small town in Arizona. Edison you are not. He used a brilliant scientific mind. You want to do the equivalent of poking a sleeping lion with a short stick.
Well, part of you does. A tiny, tiny, stupid part.
Plus you poked a few lions already this year—and look how that turned out.
Kinda well, actually.
We only remember the good stuff—the happy days. Not the dumbass things we did along the way.
You got lucky.
Miss Lolita Milan was eyeing him simultaneously with interest, love and an almost maternal disbelief. The man-boy had a new toy.
Except the man-boy wasn’t sure how this new toy worked. Or what it was. Or where it was.
‘How in hell have you all kept this a secret?’
‘We don’t want to be the new Area 51. I like a man in uniform as much as the next girl—’
‘You never met my father,’ he warned.
‘—but a thousand of them turning the town into a circus is nobody’s idea of fun. Come on, Beckman, you know Sunrise—’
‘I thought I did.’
‘—and we’re a keep-ourselves-to-ourselves kinda place. Besides,’ she said with a shrug, ‘Maybe it’s gone now.’
‘Gone?! You brought me here to show me something you can’t even see when it is there, and now say it may not be there any more. And how would we know? Maybe it is a joke.’ His eyes narrowed and he moved closer to her. ‘Is that it, honey? Wanted to laugh at the new guy? Bring him to a dead end road, spin an apocryphal tale and watch him skulk around like a curious cat, afraid of a mouse which may or may not be dead?’
He tried the single raised eyebrow thing, but failed dismally. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried, and he always failed dismally, but it didn’t stop him trying—for one very important reason.
He was an idiot.
She didn’t rise to it. She’d learned not to, because (1) she knew he was joking and (2) she also knew he was an idiot. One she dearly loved.
Instead, she stepped in and put a hand on his upper arm. ‘Beckman, I am deadly, deadly serious. For one, I thought you’d be interested, and for two I don’t want you absentmindedly wandering in there one day and poof!’
He gazed at where her eyes were habitually shielded by reaction sunglasses, well-used to the impression of being able to see beyond them, took her hand from his arm and held it tenderly in his own.
‘A guy really knows it must be love when his girl doesn’t want him to inexplicably vanish from the face of the Earth.’
‘Certainly not while he still has her car keys in his pocket.’
‘Ah. The truest of true love.’
‘And definitely not until he’s changed his Will.’ She fought a smirk. Even an idiot could see as much.
‘I have virtually nothing to my name, but it’s all yours,’ he countered.
‘I believe that is the dictionary definition of marriage.’
‘Ah. The hot topic. It’s been at least two minutes. I was worried.’
‘I’m pleased you’re worried about me. I mean, I’m worried about you.’
‘Going in there?’ He jerked his head towards the thing neither of them could see, and which may not be there in any case.
‘Of course. Come on, you don’t poke a sleeping lion with a short stick, do you?’
Absolutely not. Never crossed my mind.
‘What about a long stick?’ he wondered.
She tilted her head down to reveal raised eyebrows over the rim of her glasses. After the Tongue Poke, the Disapproving Schoolmarm was her second favourite weapon. Perhaps it was the man-boy’s fault for doing or saying so many things that warranted its use.
Or perhaps because he deliberately provoked it, finding it deeply adorable.
Or possibly because he was an idiot.
She was his own sleeping lioness, and he always had a proverbial short stick in his pocket. In the past weeks, he’d elicited many purrs, some growls, the occasional roar. Once—no, make that twice—he’d been clawed. Yet he still carried a stick.
Because you’re an idiot.
But at least you know you are, so that’s all good.
Love will do that.
So, any time in the last romantically-barren decade wouldn’t have been disastrous to have diced with poof!, but right now was Dumb with a capital DUMB.
He kissed her to remind himself of those capitals.
He turned to look at the Whatever It Was. She put hands on hips, indulging him, and they gazed towards the point in space where Strange Things Happened. Allegedly.
He became aware of her watching him, as curious of him as he was of it, as he sought even a flicker of evidence to dispel any remaining notion that this represented one big hoax. Just a sign, a grain of truth. Sunrise’s version of The Turin Shroud; something to give bedrock to belief.
After five minutes, the September sun climbing towards its warm zenith, he was turning away when something happened. Nothing grand, nothing alarming, but enough.
Only a flicker, six feet above the ground. A pixelation. A glitch in The Matrix. As fast as it came, it went. The view of the scrub desert and distant mountains hazed, oh so slightly. As if Whatever It Was winked at him, at them.
He turned to Lolita. Her eyebrow rose again, this time in a “Didn’t I Say?”.
His mouth opened, a guppy fish at feeding time, and he pointed involuntarily.
Day One, when he’d met Saul Paul for the first time, the eye-patched tow-truck driver had pulled Shakespeare from his mind, as easily as putting on a hat, but as unexpected as if he’d been a frog uttering the words in Aramaic.
There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Saul had been obliquely explaining the mere facts of his own unannounced arrival, and the presence of Sunrise itself: on a normal day, pretty startling occurrences in themselves.
But this—the Whatever It Was? If poor Horatio had encountered this he would have shat pineapples.
Lolita sashayed over.
‘I know; “I told you so”,’ he offered.
‘So can we go? You look like you could use a root beer, and I sure do.’
‘We simply get on with our lives?’ There was disbelief, maybe childish disappointment in his voice.
‘What else did you expect? Play with it?’
‘It’s just…’ He didn’t know what it was just, except that it was. It felt like a colossal anticlimax to walk away.
‘Beckman. Darling. You’re new round here. This is part of the tour, the full disclosure. In Sunrise we do get on with our lives. What’s the alternative?’
He opened his mouth to offer some alternatives that would (1) definitely be made up on the spot, (2) probably not be well received, and (3) likely have been ventured and rejected many times before by more qualified—or at least more longstanding—people than he.
He closed his mouth. She kissed it, to mollify him.
It helped to pour water on the challenging questions he had, which were legion, but not on his inquisitiveness.
She slipped a hand into his and led him back to the car. He glanced over his shoulder. The view remained unassuming; the tarmac single track road petered out into wilderness, as if abandoned mid-construction. It certainly served no purpose, led nowhere. Or at least nowhere that could be identified, quantified or any number of other -fieds.
‘What do you call it?’ he asked, trying to sound disinterested.