The indicators flashed as the driver’s door unlocked and the audible beep sounded as Gabe tossed the wrappers of his now-finished kebab into the trash bin. The blue of the Porsche reflected in his sunnies as he wiped his fingers on a now scrunched paper napkin, discarding it in the same receptacle as the wrappers. Retrieving his large drink cup from the crook of his arm he walked to the car and opened the driver’s door, sliding into the seat as the targa roof started to recede.
’I did like that falafel, not too dry.’
‘Good, so did I, we might come back here again.
‘Next time not so much hummus on mine, makes a mess of my paws.’
Gabe grinned as he took a sip from the straw and put the cup into the cupholder, Bilson relocating to his regular location beneath the driver’s seat. Gabe glanced up to watch as the rear window started to lower back into place as he pressed the starter button. He smiled to himself as the powerful engine stirred instantly to life.
“I thought you’d enjoy that for afters,” he said out loud to Bilson as the famil settled into his ‘nest’.
’I would’ve, but most of it is inside your jacket.’
He groaned softly to himself and shook his head as he glanced down at his denim jacket.
One moment, all was quiet, save for the purr of the engine and the gentle scritch of an animal burrowing into safer confines. Then a voice punctuated the calm, a vocal instrument that had a melodic way that contrasted with its owner’s kind-of ‘out there’ personality. “Y’know, for a guy who can teleport, you spent a lot of dough on this car.”
Maddy, flaxen-haired and red-lipped, sat in his passenger seat. She’d spotted Gabe from across the parking lot and watched, licking marinade off her fingertip, as he disposed of his trash like a Responsible Citizen and climbed into the Porsche. It would’ve been easy enough to knock on his car hood to say hi, but where was the fun in that? She had instead brought her legs around on the street curb in a rough imitation of a passenger, closed her eyes, pictured that bucket seat to his right -- how it would feel, what the leather might smell like -- and hoped like hell it wasn’t full of breakable objects.
And then she was there, a can of Coke still in hand. She tipped it back to take a sip, but nothing came out. Frowning, Maddy looked around.
Gabe jumped, glad he wasn’t holding his drink as his head turned quickly to see Maddy seated next to him. In his head he was hearing the startled reaction of his famil as all other sounds he was making ceased instantly. He pulled his sunglasses off, the blue of his eyes almost matching that of the car, as he stared at her for a long moment, confirming it wasn’t his imagination or a hologram. After the time his sister had tricked him into trying a potion she was working on he didn’t discount it happening again, and the way technology was advancing and Izzy was designing, who knew what she might come up with some day.
As he stared for that brief moment he caught an odd sight out of the corner of his eye, a dark blob of liquid, suspended in mid-air, suddenly losing its shape and splattering on the ground. He grinned. “And do you normally leave your drink behind?” he asked, indicating the dark wet patch on the ground where he was guessing she’d ported from.
Maddy refused to look at the splash.
“I was improvising!” She shrugged and searched the sports car for cylindrical spaces. Why didn’t cars like this have cup holders? Giving up, she tucked it between her legs, which were bare under the high-waisted shorts. The liquid was gone, but it seemed to have left its temperature behind, which resulted in a noticeable squirm. “Believe me, I’ve left worse behind… and taken way worse with me.”
She gave him a onceover as her sentence landed. “You look different. Maybe it’s because you’re sitting.”
Gabe shrugged lightly, looking down at himself then back at Maddy. “Do I?” he replied as he leaned over and pressed on a shiny metallic strip on the dash, above the glove compartment. He was wondering whether to ask for more details about the previous substances, as the pressed cover flipped down revealing… unidentifiable to the untrained eye… items. With gearing. He pressed once on one, and a cup holder swung out. “Probably the most well-disguised cup holder in existence,” he told her as he pressed the cover strip back into place and leaned back in his seat, giving a lop-sided grin. “Who could resist buying the car when presented with that as an option!”
“Me, I think.” Maddy watched with a perplexed face, leaning closer to inspect the mechanical parts, hoping to solve the mystery. Not of how, but why? “It’s like when you’re in a celebrity’s house and you’re searching for a trash can, but it takes forever to find one because trash cans are ugly, so they disguise them to blend with the decor.” Her palms opened dramatically. “So you put your trash in one… And spend the rest of the night wondering if you put your garbage in Zooey Deschanel’s antique credenza.”
Maddy turned to regard him.
Gabe couldn’t help but chuckle, and was now trying to imagine what the inside of Zooey Deschanel’s house looked like. He caught sight of a parking cop approaching, and his meter had already flipped up the ‘expired’ sign as he’d returned to the vehicle. He reached over his shoulder for his seatbelt, fastening it as he asked, “Is that along the lines of the worse things you’ve left behind, or the way worse you’ve taken with you?”
“Oh! No, those were clothes.” Maddy made herself at home by reaching for a seatbelt and buckling it. A pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses were rescued from the disheveled crown of her head and popped onto her nose. “Whatcha doin’ today?” Her plans could wait for a bit. She’d been meaning to catch up with this guy since the party at Derek’s house. As a bonus, she was sober this time.
Gabe noticed the seatbelt being fastened, which put rest to his next question. Instead he found himself looking at her clothes, and imagining something being left behind, and had to quickly drag his mind back to the matters at hand, moving the car. He looked up at the rear vision mirror, returning his attention to driving.
“At some point I have to visit a friend’s new place, help him with some ‘moving-in’ stuff,” he answered, “but that involves a drive down the 95. Down between Nelson and Searchlight.” He glanced across at her and smiled. “You up to anything in particular?”
“Not really. Screwing around until work tonight. What about you, Gabe? Gabriel. Gabraham. No, definitely Gabe.” Her fingers worked through a few tangled locks of hair that the wind had whipped around in the parking lot. “Do you work?” It was an unusual question, as most people their age did work, but given the sticker price of his car, maybe he didn’t have to. She’d met people like that in school in California, at least until they couldn’t afford their property taxes anymore and it was ‘find a job or list your home and watch people eat finger foods and make fun of your custom backsplash.’
“I do,” he replied as the car slowed to a stop at a set of traffic lights. “My family is in shipping, mainly in the Mediterranean, Europe and Africa, and a little to South America. I’m working on developing some of the new business and following leads here in the Americas,” he continued as they sat at the lights. He turned to look at her as he asked, “what about you Maddy? What has you booked up tonight?”
“Shipping things from one place to another. Also ironic,” she mused behind the dark lenses. “I like your style.” Maddy pressed another portion of the dashboard, wondering if something else would pop free like a chair from Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. “I work weekdays in costume design, but at night I’m at a place called Rabbit Hole. It’s an inter-dimensional speakeasy. I started out at the door but lately I’m serving. I only pour if the bartender doesn’t show or gets eaten outside.” She turned her attention to the roof. “But that’s only happened once.”
Gabe chuckled, an eyebrow arching in response to the ‘ironic’ assessment and the fate of the bartender. “Been there a few times. Interesting place.” The lights turned green and his foot eased off the brake and onto the accelerator, the car smoothly moving forward, crossing the intersection.
“Random but slightly relevant question, have you ever been to Hoover Dam? And would you like to go there now?”
“I haven’t.” Her fingers traced along a seam in the fabric overhead. “And sure, why not? You’re not planning to murder me and dump my body over the side, are you?” Maddy smiled at him. “I’m still going if you say yes, just for the story: ‘A crime that rocked Las Vegas… International shipping magnate arrested for abduction and attempted murder of a young woman with a troubled past.’ I think I can spin that into a few talk show appearances.”
Gabe had already loaded the destination in the GPS before he’d stopped to grab some lunch. He threw a slightly puzzled look in her direction before glancing at the GPS screen. “Does that happen often? People trying to murder you?” he asked, a little bemused as to why her mind would instantly go in that direction, but also picking up the admission of a ‘troubled past’. “Or is this some secret fantasy you have?” he added as he turned at the next corner.
“Or are you really into horror films?”
“Um. Mooostly C?” Maddy left off her vehicular exploration. “Not to brag, but I’ve had a vampire or two get fresh outside the bar, and I did just get in a car with a man I’ve only met once...” She lifted her palms. “Which can get dicey. But you look harmless enough, even if you did ask about my secret fantasies. Very forward.”
She looked behind her seat, curious as to the layout of the car.
“Don’t tell me, they just wanted to take you for a bite to eat?” he suggested, keeping a dead straight face. “And you don’t strike me as the kind of person who goes for subtle? Or beating around the tree, is it they say?”
Maddy leaned across and gave Gabe’s car horn a brisk beep. “That’s for the pun. And they say bush.” She eased back into her seat. “Hey… what kind of ice cream do vampires like best?” While she was waiting for the answer, she finally admitted defeat and put the can in the fold-out cup holder.
Gabe blinked at the beep of the horn, giving the driver in front a smile and apologetic wave as they glared at him, questioningly, in their rear vision mirror. “I’ve never known one well enough to ask,” he answered as his hand returned to the wheel. “Tell me, what ice cream do vampires like best?”
“Vein-illa.” Maddy let a beat pass. “Badum-tishhh…”
A groan escaped Gabe’s throat as he slowly shook his head, but couldn’t hide the grin that crept across his face. “Right…” He looked across at her before turning his attention back on the road. “I’m going to guess it’s not yours,” he continued. Nothing about her struck him as ever possibly being described as ‘vanilla’. “You look more like … say… a tutti-frutti, or rum and raisin? No, chili chocolate,” he finally landed on, glancing across at her again.
“Cherry chip, thank you very much... Rum and raisin?” Maddy wrinkled her nose. Her fingers laced around one of her bare knees. “That sounds like loaf bread at a holiday potluck. Or what you eat while having a midlife crisis in the apartment you share with three cats. That’s not what you eat, is it?” She looked him over, as if the clues might be hidden on his person.
“Me?” He shook his head. “No, no mid-life crisis here, or cats. My favourite is burnt toffee,” he admitted. “Not something you can usually get in the stores though.” He checked the rear vision mirror and changed lanes to get onto the main road that went out toward the dam. “Can’t remember ever trying cherry chip.”
“Trust me, you’d remember it, if you did.” Maddy smiled as the car shifted direction. “I try not to go off-book with my favorite things. It makes it too hard to do something until I’m sick of it. So. Guy with cool accent and impeccably clean car. Which part of the dam are you into, the 1930s engineering or the view? Or are you one of those people who reads all the bronze plaques at historical sites?”
Gabe laughed as the car smoothly accelerated onto the I-215, noting the next turn-off was onto the I-11 S. “Always the view,” he replied, giving her a grin before returning his attention to the road passing quickly beneath the wheels.
“Though it can be interesting to read what someone once thought was important enough to say in bronze,” he added, giving a light shrug with one shoulder. “Or even just write down to remember for later,” he teased, remembering the night they met and the borrowing of a pen and paper.
“Yeahhhh.” Maddy nodded, thinking she was picking up what he was putting down. “I was super high when I did that, and also…” She made a drinking motion and clicked her tongue. Her memory was a little fuzzy on the particulars of her behavior, but she was pretty sure she coaxed Gabe onto a makeshift dance floor. “Sober as a judge today though.” She elbowed him. Then, randomly, “Do you like snakes? I’m thinking of getting a pet.”
Gabe almost burst out laughing at the response he ‘felt’ from Bilson, but managed to restrain himself. “A snake, huh? I can dig that, though I have a really good friend who completely freaks out when they’re even mentioned.”
’Oh right, make fun of me, see where that gets you!’
‘Me? Make fun of you? NEVER!’
“You ever handled snakes before?” he asked, managing to smother the snicker brought on by the reactions he was hearing in his head.
“Yeah, my college roommate hid a corn snake from the RA for a semester before he found it during health and safety inspections. I heard the scream from two floors up,” she said. “When I was a kid we used to play with the garter snakes we found outside. They’re cute l’il guys… until one decides to gnaw on your hand and you need a tetanus shot.”
Maddy held out her arm so Gabe could see two tiny, white scars near her knuckle.
Gabe looked at the knuckle and nodded. “Lucky!” he noted, “but tell me, what hurt more? The bite? The tetanus shot? Or jokes from your friends?” he asked, grinning. “And had you figured out you could apport at that age?” he asked, curious as to how long she’d had, or known of her skill.
“Did I forget to mention? I’m immune to the sting of pain and humiliation.” While kidding about the first part, the second was close to true; it took a certain level of self-consciousness to be easily embarrassed that she had been short on since birth. “The whole apportation thing was around the same time. I think I was… I dunno, like eleven when I realized it. My parents are professors. They were doing all this research into psychotherapy and hypnotherapy and neuroscience. I’ve got an untested hypothesis that they experimented on me and thought I was a dud. Joke’s on them.”
She took off her sunglasses to wipe a smudge and squinted at him in the afternoon sunlight. “What about you? How’d you start?”
The noise of the wind was increasing a little, one of the drawbacks of the Targa model over the full convertible, but it didn’t interfere with the conversation. Gabe took the turn onto the next stretch of highway and settled down for the drive, hands comfortably settled on the steering wheel as they cruised at the speed limit mainly because of other traffic. Once or twice he changed lanes to move around a slower vehicle.
“Start practicing?” he said, giving a single shoulder shrug as he flicked the indicator to move out around another traveling speed bump. “It’s a family thing,” he continued. “There’s an old family heirloom that gives the parents a sign that the bloodline has continued in a child early on, and if you ‘have it’, then you’re brought up with it as part of your life. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know, or when I started, it’s just always been there, a part of me.”
“Well it’s a good thing they see it positively. Otherwise that could go real bad. You’d have a little… scarlet M,” she drew a letter on her chest, “Stitched to your onesie.” Maddy’s smile was impish. “I’m glad mine’s secret. It’s my choice who to show and when to use it. At least until the government finds out and stuffs me in a lab for human experimentation.”
Gabe had tried to imagine having to grow up amongst family who had no clue about what their bloodline gifted to some and he couldn't picture it easily. He'd heard about a few who'd had that sort of upbringing and he couldn't understand it. Cian had had the same reaction when they'd both first discussed it years earlier.
"It was a dolphin, with a trident actually, and not so much a onesie, they hadn't arrived in Greece back then," he returned nonchalantly, throwing a wink and grin at her immediately after.
"So your parents, and siblings, do they know anything?" he asked. "You ever done anything to them with it?"
Maddy poked out her lip at the dolphin imagery.
“I’m an only child,” she said. “They’re clueless. When I wanted to get on their nerves, I just used good old-fashioned annoyance. Sneaking out, liberating my mom’s Volvo from the garage, public nudity, coming home with a police escort. After I went off to college, the thrill was gone. Once I ‘ported into the house in the middle of the semester? Just for shits and grins? I interrupted them in flagrante delicto with a special guest. That was really something.”
Gabe’s eyebrows rose as he looked at her for a moment then laughed. There was no surprise at her attitude by now, it was who she was. “And they’re still clueless?” he asked. “I mean… clearly they were busy with their business, and special guest, but did they see you? Didn’t they ask questions?”
“I told them a friend dropped me off for a long weekend.” She shook her head. “They were too busy kicking sex toys under the couch to wonder why they didn’t hear the door open. Plus there was this really sick Sade album on. ’I gave you all that I have inside…’ Heeey! ’And you took my love, you took my love. I keep crying, I keep trying for you. There's nothing like you and I, baby. This is no ordinary love… No ordinary love.’” Maddy stopped swaying and snapping her fingers.
Gabe turned it on, having joined in with her singing, continuing on with the next verse and to the bridge, ignoring the sigh and groan in his head.
“When you came my way, You brightened every day With your sweet smile!
Didn’t I tell you What I believe? Did someone say that A love like that won’t last? Didn’t I give you All that I’ve got to give, Maddy?”
His visits to the karaoke bars with Izzy had had the two of them start to ham it up when singing, and he used that now as the car continued down the highway.
Maddy’s eyebrows were sky-high. She reached up to scratch one delicately-penciled line as he belted out the tune. “Wow. Okay! Before whenever I heard that song, I associated it with my parents smashing, but now, I mean, you’re giving them competition.” She arched away from the bucket seat to pull a box of Icebreakers mints out of her pocket and popped one in her mouth. She set it between herself and Gabe in case he wanted to partake. “You’re good. Any other secret talents?”
The grin on Gabe’s face remained as he reached down and helped himself to a mint, popping it in his mouth as he shrugged. “I guess that depends on what you consider a talent,” he pointed out.
’Oh seriously? C’mon, you’re killing me here!’
‘Then why are you making so much noise? Trying to prove the Dead do talk?’
“Mm. Classic deflection.” Maddy inspected the packaging of her mints. She could think of four or five reasons why he might do that, but she wasn’t gonna work herself up into a lather trying to figure it out. “It’s cool. Share, don’t share, whatever floats your boat.” The saying was accompanied by a bouncing gesture of the mint box, like a ship navigating waves.
A highway sign passed and she noted it, getting a feel for where they were.
His eyes flicked from her face to her hands, and eyebrow arched briefly and the soft chuckle settled into a smile on his face. “Well, as it happens, I love the water, both being in it, on it and in a boat floating on it,” he offered, “and I’m not a bad sailor, or swimmer.” He paused before adding, “I can sort of ‘read the waves’.” As he spoke his eyes darted down to the sapphire signet ring on his right hand, resting on the steering wheel.
“How about you? You a sailor or a landlubber?” The way he pronounced ‘landlubber’ could be taken as that, or ‘land lover’.
“What’s in the middle? An islandlubber?” Maddy’s mouth puckered as she tried to think up a better term for it. “I like water. I like land. I grew up in Tacoma and then I lived in LA so I always had access to both. So if you’re a fish, I’m a frog. I’m also into hills, y’know, really cool topography. I like coming around a bend and boom! Surprise eye candy. What I can’t do? Is rural.” She shivered.
“Interesting, so cool landscape is your jive,” he replied, imagining for a moment showing Maddy his home, the island, the cliffs, the beaches and bays. “You ever traveled? I mean outside the US?”
Maddy leaned up to retrieve her phone. “Yeah, with my parents when I was younger and I was living off their dime. We went to Europe and did a tour by train, and we went to Montreal and Puerto Viejo. I don’t Big T ‘travel’ much internationally, if that’s what you mean. With apportation, you’re basically disappearing from one place and reappearing somewhere else, and that can get kinda sketch over large distances. Oh, but one time, I did sleep-port into Tijuana after a Dia de los Muertos celebration. I woke up with some guy nudging me with his shoe. “¡Oye chica flaca! Tienes que levantarte.”
She put the phone in selfie mode, leaned over the console, and aimed it at herself and Gabe. “Smile and say pizza!”
Leaning back in his seat a little Gabe turned his head slightly and looked at the screen, keeping one eye on the road streaming beneath Amphitrite's wheels as he called out "pizza!". The aviator sunglasses with blue mirror lenses created tiny duplicate reflections of the phone, and the white skin of her extended arm.
Maddy popped off her shades to inspect the results, then posted the picture on her Instagram account, thumbs flying across digital keys. They travelled a while longer before signs for the dam began appearing along the road, near the Nevada-Arizona state line. Maddy studied what scenery could be observed from the car windows: rocky, brown terrain that had once been underwater but was then stretched and pulled by volcanic activity, and then carved by water again as rivers cut through it. Afterwards, it was human activity that shaped the land through engineering.
“Where do you want to go, the lookout?” she asked him. “Or park and do that whole tourist thing?”
“Maybe both?” Gabe replied, looking across at her before turning back to watch the road again. “But definitely the lookout,” he added. “Always nice to get a good overview of everything,” he added nonchalantly. “Hopefully most of the day trippers will be gone, or at least heading back to their hotels by now, we might be lucky and get the place to ourselves.” He wouldn’t mind that, give them a chance to check the place out without anyone else around.
Maddy consulted her phone. “It looks like you can park and walk up the stairs or use a trail loop to get to the lookout, and you can cross the big footbridge, too.” She made a sound of interest. “Oh my god, Gabe… did you know there’s a historic railroad hiking trail back that way?” she thumbed at the highway behind them. “It goes through five different railroad tunnels. Maybe I’ll sneak in at night with nothing but a janky flashlight to freak myself out. There’s so much to do around here that nobody knows about.”
His eyebrow twitched up into an arch at the sound of excitement in her voice and he couldn’t help but grin. For some reason it didn’t surprise him she’d be into that sort of thing, it did go with the rest of her. “OK so stairs or trail loop?” he asked, looking at the GPS screen to see if it showed any of the points of interest she was mentioning.
As they turned off the highway and started along the access road a couple of buses were making their way back down toward the highway, passengers staring tiredly out the window, their minds apparently full to the brim of statistics and details showered upon them by the tour guides.
Maddy looked down at the floorboard. “These are my kebab-getting shoes. They aren’t the best for hiking. I’m going with stairs.” She waited for him to find a place to park. As soon as it was safe to do so, the blonde opened her car door and climbed out the other side. She gave a big cat-stretch, as though they had been driving for hours, and waited for Gabe to join her in the warm afternoon sun.
A family passed, two kids absorbed in their cell phones while their parents negotiated a huge camera around their neck.
While Bilson relocated into his usual place snugly tucked inside Gabe’s jacket the sorcerer closed the Targa roof then exited the car and closed the door, pressing the button to lock the vehicle. Once Amphitrite was secure he turned to look where the signs were declaring they should head to take the stairs, noticing the family reaching a small SUV, the kids standing distractedly next to the back doors as the parent unlocked the vehicle, discussion already starting on where they would have dinner that night, and did the kids want to have dinner at Burger King or the steakhouse. It sounded a little odd to Gabe, his family never really having travelled for vacations, and his parents never really needing to ask his sister or him their preferences. They just ate what they were presented, regardless of where they were, at that age. Admittedly, if they were at home, it was rare they didn’t really like what was put in front of them, and when out, their parents knew their preferences well enough they would usually make the choice of where the family would go.
With a wry smile he pocketed the keyfob and adjusted his sunnies, heading over to join Maddy. “Right, ready?” he asked, checking his phone was in his pocket.
“Born ready.” Maddy pulled an elastic band off her wrist as they walked, following the tide of people going to and fro, as she knew it would lead to the entrance. Only some of her hair was long enough to be caught up in the ponytail, but it kept the majority out of her eyes. The wind in that area was intense, with little vegetation to buffer it. As they approached the base of the steps, she made a dash around a larger group and started jogging up what Google had informed her were ninety-eight stairs. Her voice called out to him, “Carr-diiii-ooooo!” from up ahead.
Gabe shook his head and grinned as he watched her take off.
Maddy didn’t take her eyes off the steps as she jogged. It kept her from eating concrete or spoiling the view before she’d reached the top. Once there, though, the landscape and the sapphire-blue river were spread beneath her. “Whoa! This is crazy!” She turned to find Gabe, fists in front of her eyes to imitate googly eyes springing from her face, complete with sound effect.
Gabe wasn’t quite as quick as Maddy and didn’t make it around the larger group before they started their ascent. Instead he ducked and shuffled and excused his way through the group, trying to catch up with the blonde sprite up ahead. He was thwarted as one of the group would pause to look around, and exclaim excitedly, flinging an arm out unnecessarily to indicate where another who was clearly only there because they had to be, not for the scenery, should look, because Hoover Dam was difficult to locate without the directional guidance.
When he finally caught up with her he also looked at the view, and was rather glad he’d been distracted with getting around the crowd. The view was spectacular. As was the expression on his companion’s face. “Wow!” he agreed. He moved to the edge of the bridge, letting others past, and looking across the landscape and being reminded of his home. Not because it in any way looked like the dam, but more because of the ruggedness of the rockface, the steep cliffs, being met by the blue of the serene water. His favourite place being on the dock where the two worlds met.
“Fovero!”, he murmured, quickly switching back to English. “Worth the climb.”
“Mmhm!” Maddy was pretending not to be winded. The sound of the breeze covered up a few recovery gulps. She touched the wall of the lookout and took in the view from all directions, then offered to take a group’s photo so they wouldn’t just be a trio of heads looming in the foreground. Now that she was up here, she was looking forward to taking the walkway across the dam.
“I’m glad I’m not afraid of heights,” she said. “Do you have any phobias?” She leaned her elbows on the wall and let the sun bake into her upturned face.
Gabe thought for a moment, the angling of his head indicating him thinking. “Not sure it’s a phobia, but I hate kicking my toe, any of them,” he finally answered. “As a kid I used to always take my shoes off, hated wearing them, and my aunt used to always point out I would hurt myself, whether by stepping on something or stubbing a toe, or something like that.” He shrugged, “I mean sure, but I preferred being barefoot, and whenever I did kick my toe or something happened she would give my mother that withering look of ’I told you so!’,” he continued. “Mama refused to be intimidated, but she would have that look of guilt in her eyes, as if she believed she was a bad mama. So I used to always try and hide it,” he finished with a half guilty huffed laugh and lopsided grin. “And I really hate long socks?” he tossed in at the end, laughing.
Maddy smiled. “Yeah but everyone hates stubbing their toe! By the way... I hate feet. It’s not a phobia or anything, they’re just weird.” She straightened up. “I’m afraid of dentists. I gotta take a Xanax just to get a cleaning.” There was room enough now to get to the bridge across the dam, so Maddy gestured. “You ready to get this show on the road?”
“Lead the way!”
The bridge across the dam was an engineering feat all of its own, the large brass plaques identifying all the general information, right down to the labour unions involved in its construction, which bemused Gabe a little. As they continued walking toward the Arizona end of the bridge he also looked up at the sky, reaching out to find any feathered friends. A scene of the dam with the bridge in the foreground had him turn his head to the right and look a little behind, finally spotting the golden eagle soaring up above. A few seconds later he bumped into someone, and quickly apologised for not having been watching where he was walking. The slightly disgruntled fellow tourist grumbled something about ‘fur-in-ers’ and kept walking toward the Nevada end, leaving Gabe with a pointed glare.
“Oops?” he grinned, still apologetically, as he shrugged at Maddy.
“Who pissed in their cornflakes?” Maddy didn’t know what that was about. People were generally pretty cool about tourists, at least in her experience. She let the magnitude of the dam sink in; it was one of those engineering marvels of the past century that was overwhelming in its scope but it hadn’t come about without an environmental and sociocultural price. The blue of the water was radiant against the rock. It was easy to see why people liked to kayak out there.
“I heard the river’s freezing all year,” she said to Gabe. “But people still swim in it. I got desperate last summer and jumped in a community pool. The water was so warm and crowded, it was like people soup.” Never again, Maddy told herself. Not when she could jump in the river and cool off.
“Yeah, pools generally are not really my scene, but public pools?” He managed to not shudder too much. “I prefer not soaking in chlorine and people’s pee,” he replied as they kept walking, Gabe being a little more aware of where he was walking now. “I guess if I had to name a phobia it would be that. I’d rather dump a jug of water over my head than get in a public pool where there’s a lot of other people. Do you like the beach?” he asked, stepping aside, behind Maddy, to let a threesome heading the other way keep their formation across the path.
“I mean… it’s clean pee,” she said, making a case for the pool of the working class. “Well I guess I’m not inviting you to Cowabunga Bay.” Maybe she could convince Derek to go on the midnight shift. He looked like a guy who appreciated water slides. Maddy watched the dam passing beneath them. “Beaches are nice. And definitely the idea of beaches. You know, the smell of sunscreen and the sound of the waves. In fact, I like the idea of beaches so much that I ignore the reality of beaches when I’m there.”
“Cowabunga Bay?” Gabe looked at her sideways. “It’s not exactly a pool,” he pointed out with a shrug, glancing at the dam, “any more than that is. Beaches, on the other hand?” He stopped walking and stepped aside, away from the foot traffic, and looked down at the body of water that was known as Lake Mead. The blue surface reflected the white rim along the cliff faces that created the edge. “They have… energy, life, a power that doesn’t exist in these,” he told her, elbows resting on the railing as he stared down for a long moment. “They are where the ocean meets the land, where we can meet the ocean, and all who live in it.” He realised he was probably causing a traffic hazard, and shook his head, letting out a laugh as he turned, “and of course the sand can suck pretty bad when it gets in the wrong places!”
Maddy watched him wax poetic about beaches. There was something there, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. It was like Gabe was describing romantic love. It was personal. She combed a strand of hair out of her face. “Yeah… plus rocks, jellyfish, rip currents, people destroying your castles, seagulls stealing your Cheetos, wet patches on your shorts.” She grinned. “Loud dudes playing sand sports.”
Once Maddy had gotten her fill of looking over the railing, she started back the other way. Up ahead, a woman had a small umbrella blocking out the Nevada sun. She watched it twirl.
Gabe’s sunglasses reflected the blue and red brown either side of the stripe of white for a moment longer before he turned and started following Maddy back toward the Nevada side of the bridge. The umbrella caught his eye, the colours of the sun parasol seemingly uniting and turning as the shaft was spun by her hand. Without really thinking the sorcerer reached out and flicked his wrist, and the colours swirled faster, separating into their primary groups, blues and yellows with tiny flickers of red that seemed to suddenly spark to life in the shapes of koi carp, fins flowing as if sails in an unseen breeze, caressed by the blue green waters roiling on the turning shade. It lasted only a few seconds, then as the spinning slowed the colours returned to their former state.
“Not a cheeto or loud dude in sight,” was whispered, the hint of a grin hidden in the words.
Maddy’s mouth popped open and she spun to face him. “Was that you?!” she hissed. She lightly punched Gabe in the stomach. “For a minute I thought I was having an acid flashback.” The backwards walking continued and she got a twinkle in her eye. “Hey, wanna freak people out? I could jump. ‘Goodbye, cruel world!’” Maddy opened her arms wide and let her head fall back, swan dive style. “Then I’ll pop up behind them. Vegas, baby!”
“Me?” He laughed at her expression, and let out a soft, exaggerated ‘oof’ as she punched him. He shook his head, intrigued by her desire to ‘freak people out’. He’d spent most of his life blending in, trying not to draw attention to himself. The teasing and barbs he’d received as a young child with a stammer had been enough attention of the unwelcome type as to ensure he never went looking for it. That, and his family’s history lived in people’s minds at home at all different levels of infamy, and acceptance. He actually enjoyed the anonymity here. He’d never sought, nor wanted to either impress, or ‘freak out’ anyone, so Maddy’s desire to do this was both baffling and curious to him.
“And if someone keels over with a heart attack?” he asked her, head angled questioningly. From what he’d seen of some of their fellow tourists there were possibly a few candidates who’d pushed themselves just on the climb up to the bridge from the dam.
“I know CPR.” Maddy pumped an imaginary chest between them. “Or I grab ‘em by their purple face and poof, we’re in the ER. If it doesn’t work,” she placed a hand over her chest, “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” Maddy pivoted to walk alongside him. “You’re very careful for a Hufflepuff. Do you always think of the worst case scenario?”
He grinned as he watched her perform CPR in midair, again impressed by her mercurial presentation of the various options. But the grin slowly slipped away as she fell into step beside him again.
’Your powers, and the use of the energy gifted you by others, is all centred around trust, and consequences. If you cannot be trusted, the consequences will match. Balance is maintained, and meted out, if not immediately, then eventually.’ The voices he heard were that from his memory of his grandfather’s delivery of the message, and the echoing by Bilson, reciting it in unison with the memory. It was on his 14th birthday, when he was presented with the ring he now wore, and the head of the family had spoken to him of his duties as custodian of the family’s secrets.
“Hufflepuff?!” he replied with mock indignation. “And all this time I’d believed the Sorting Hat when it designated me as Ravenclaw,” he continued, “I mean, really? Me? In black and yellow? It’d clash something shocking with my eyes, so definitely blue and bronze boy here, all the way!”
“What’s wrong with Hufflepuff?” Maddy wanted to know. “They work hard, they’re loyal, they’re all about justice and fairness! Plus Cedric’s a total smokeshow.” She couldn’t understand the greater appeal of Ravenclaw. “Anyway, I’m a Slytherin, so…” She lifted her palms. “I guess the hat knows best.”
“And what’s wrong with Ravenclaw?” he asked with mock indignity, and a slight touch of curiosity. He had indicated with humour it was just the house colours he was referring to, nothing else, but her calling herself a Slytherin did pique his curiosity. “We don’t cheat,” he teased, nudging her lightly with his elbow.
“Sir, my talent speaks for itself. Why cheat when you’re so good at winning?” Maddy lifted her chin in her best Malfoy. The accompanying strut made quite an impression on a cluster of small children she passed. Maddy winked at the nearest one.
Again Gabe grinned, enjoying the performance. “Yes, winning at cheating!” he declared as he sauntered after her, falling into step behind and mirroring the ‘strut’ in her wake. The adults having a conversation about details of a series the children were familiar with, despite it being older than any of them, seemed to impress the kids so much they joined in the march, all declaring their houses. “Three cheers for Ravenclaw!” Gabe called out when he saw them tagging along, a number of them joining in.
“Yes, yes! Get used to cheering! That’s what spectators do best!” Maddy reached behind her back with both hands. “Slytherin rules! Ravenclaw... drools.” When her hands came back to the front, she had a jointed wiggle snake toy, pulled through space from a bookshelf in her apartment. She handed it to the smallest child and turned around before they stepped off the bridge onto land so that she could see where they were going.
“Winners are grinners!” Gabe replied, grinning widely, throwing his arms in the air and crying out “and we are the champions!” When he lowered his arms they paused in their downward arc until straight out from his shoulders, right on cue two black ravens descended from the sky and landed there, wings outstretched as they balanced, then settled for a few seconds before launching again into the sky.
“Hey look! It’s the Bird Woman from Mary Poppins!” Maddy pointed and frantically dug into her pockets, turning out the fabric and a few pieces of lint. “And me, without a twopence.” She pouted and slouched off towards the steps. “Come on, Edgar.” She trotted down them as quickly as safety and the other visitors allowed.
He followed her, a little bemused at the pout but shrugged and waved to the kids before heading for the ramp and following the figure now trotting ahead.
’You know that was showing off.’
‘Well, yes… ‘
‘You’re not supposed to use it for that.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know... just trying to figure out is she cross with me or what.’
‘That I can’t help you with. And who’s Edgar?’
‘That I can’t help you with! I have no idea!’
Gabe wound his way through the people, stepping aside and excusing himself as he did.
Maddy reached the bottom and headed in the vague direction of the parking lot, now in no particular hurry. She brought out her phone and took a picture of a pair of googly eyes someone had stuck above a crack in the sidewalk so that it looked like a giant, leering face. A small, spiky weed was growing out of its crack-mouth. She got into a crouch to get a better angle on it while Gabe caught up.
When he did he paused, looking to see what she was looking at and recognising the amusing scene. “Rock monster?” he asked, his hands in his pockets.
“Maybe it’s a socio-political statement on man’s impact on the environment.” Maddy peered up at him through her dark shades. She got up and stood on her tiptoes to check his shoulders and hair. “Oh good. No bird shit. You ready to go, Edgar? If you want to stay and do the tour, I can zap myself back.”
His bafflement only deepened at her now not wanting to be there, and he could only put it down to the ‘birds’. Maybe she wouldn’t want to spend the almost hour long trip back in the car with him, for whatever reason, so he shrugged. “I’m OK either way - can leave now, or if you prefer to get your own way back, that’s OK too?”
He looked confused. Maddy wrinkled her forehead, reflecting it. “What’s up?” She lifted her sunglasses as if that would help her ‘see’ better the source of Gabe’s confusion. “Oh! You wanted me to do the whole guided tour thing. I didn’t… shit. I’m more like, informal, fly by the seat of my pants, jump in the cute guy’s car, take a road trip, see some sights…” She didn’t know what to say, so she rocked on the outsides of her shoes until he piped up.
He shook his head, hands now upright as if saying ‘stop’. “No, definitely wasn’t planning on anything at all, was just coming out here to look around, see what’s here, as in a sort of ‘get to know your neighbourhood’ type of thing,” he explained, not sure why he felt he had to, but doing so anyway. “Sort of, you know, filling in time, learning some things, and being lucky enough to do it enjoying the company of a pretty, interesting girl on a nice afternoon.” He added, with a lop-sided grin and shrug, “and I like to drive my car.”
“Okay.” Maddy shrugged. Anything she was concerned about rolled off her shoulders like water. “It is nice today.” She shielded her face to look at the sky. One of those hot-but-not-scalding spring days before the boilers of summer. “If I hadn’t run into you, I might have spent the rest of it inside. They should issue Rabbit Hole employees pills to prevent rickets.” The blonde continued on the walk to his car.
Again Gabe found himself following after her, scratching his head briefly before falling into step beside her. He was giving up trying to figure out anything, instead just deciding he would enjoy the drive back to the city, maybe grab a drink at the Rabbit Hole, then dinner back at the hotel. “I’m glad to help you keep from getting rickets,” he said as they made their way back to the car park. “But I do have one question.” He paused for a brief moment, turning to look at her with curiosity.
“Who is this Edgar?”
Maddy burst into happy laughter. “Edgar Allen Poe! You know…” She tapped his arm. “‘Quoth the raven, nevermore.’” She had used her spookiest voice. “Back there, with the birds! I debated which pop culture reference to go with after the Mary Poppins. It was either The Raven or that Hitchcock movie. I guess I picked the wrong one, huh?”
Gabe tried not to look completely blank, the only real understanding he had of what she was talking about being of the musical Mary Poppins, which he had seen, as a child. And of course the whole series of Hogwarts films, as he and his sister had referred to them. His main literary education had involved books that were not published, and resided in his family’s libraries, and the only movies he’d ever really seen when he was younger were musicals, and that was mainly thanks to his stammer, and the success in getting rid of it through singing, and music. But not wanting to appear like a dumb foreigner he smiled and nodded, as if understanding what she was talking about. “I was trying to remember the name of the chimney sweep, from Mary Poppins, I knew it wasn’t Edg… Bert! That’s who it was!” he finally declared with some small sense of victory, and silently thanking his grandmother.
“I know him as dirty Dick Van Dyke.” Maddy went around to the passenger side of the car, ready to use the door this time. “The costumes in that movie are great. I wonder if they used makeup on him or just told him to skip showering and roll around in a pile of soot. One year I dressed up as Pigpen from Charlie Brown. That was basically my process. Very method.”
She settled her glasses on her nose. “Shall we?”
With only the vaguest of recollections of something about a Pigpen and Charlie Brown Gabe shrugged and after kicking his heels together he proceeded to ‘step’ back toward Amphitrite in a rather amusing set of steps that any aficionado of the musical Mary Poppins would recognise as from ‘Step in Time’, singing the final chorus. He arrived at the vehicle with a flourish, arms outspread, and Amphitrite’s blinkers flashing as the vehicle unlocked.
Clearing his throat and looking a little contrite he opened the door and slid into the vehicle, pulling his keys out of his pocket, the vehicle soon cutting its way through the carpark and back towards Las Vegas.