Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Excerpt from WTWC - Christmas Dinner

This is an excerpt from When the Wolves Come, my NaNoWriMo project. Please excuse the glaring format errors. I use Google Docs to edit which, apparently, does not play well with copy and paste.

As always, comments, suggestions, hate mail, and everything else are strongly encouraged.

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Friday, 25 December 2038
Sol System
Earth, USA, San Antonio, Texas

Even though his temporary apartment was small, it was not all together unpleasant. The company had provided a furnished apartment for him in San Antonio since moving his operations from Dallas to the Capital. He was not normally the type to overdue things during the holiday season, preferring just a meal and some quality time with his son. A gift or two might be exchanged, nothing extravagant.

This year he had hurriedly gone a little farther, stopping to get a Christmas tree from a local guy selling them on the side of the road. Clark was fairly convinced he had been ripped off by the man, fifty dollars seemed a little excessive for a tree that would make it’s way to the compost heap in about a week. Regardless, he thought it would be a good idea to make an effort this year since he would be having a special guest over.

He had just finished fitting the tree in it’s base and was watering it when a knock came at the door. He opened the door and greeted his son Gray with a smile. The young man came in, shivering and gave his father a hug before brushing the snow from his jacket and hanging it on the back of a chair.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it snowing in Texas.” Gray said, then “It’s good to see you dad.”

“It’s good to see you too. Make yourself at home.” Clark said as he walked back to the tree to finish watering the base.

Gray set down the wrapped gift he had brought on the table and looked around the room. When he noticed what his father was doing, he cocked his head a little to the left and asked “Really, what’s with the tree dad?”

“Well, you know-- we are going to be having company this year, so I thought it would be appropriate.”

“Company huh? As in the female type of company?” Gray asked with a grin.

“Yes Gray, a female. Someone very important that I work with actually. She uh, she’s from out of town, I guess you could say. I asked her to come have dinner with us since she had nowhere else to go.”

Clark finished with the tree and brought the bowl he had used to water it back to the kitchen. He had some vegetables going on the stove. The smell of bacon in the green beans and other things cooking on the stove top invited Gray into the kitchen with him. Clark opened the oven to check on the turkey roasting in the oven then consulted a print out with directions on how the bird was supposed to be prepared.

“You know, I’m not sure this is going to be done in time.” Clark said as he consulted his watch. “She’s supposed to be here in a half hour.”

Gray leaned up against the kitchen wall and picked up a dinner roll from the basket on the counter. He tore off a piece and watched his father battle the meal being prepared. His father’s meticulous attention to detail was one of his better traits but it also tended to reveal a sense of anxiousness.

“You’re nervous, aren’t you?” Gray said smugly. He enjoyed seeing his father like this.

“Nervous? Why would I be nervous?” Clark asked.

“Well, only because you haven’t exactly been playing the field lately. When was the last time you went on a date dad?”

“Who said this was anything like a date?”

“For starters, I know you aren’t going through all this trouble for me. Last year we had a pre-cooked chicken you bought from the store. I remember because it was especially dry.” the younger man sad.

“And the dinner rolls?” Gray continued as he stuffed the rest of the roll in his mouth.

Clark stopped fretting over the meal and looked at his son. Gray was a spitting image of himself at the age of twenty four. His sandy blond hair was close cut and he had a little bit of stubble on his face from not shaving this morning. Gray was a little shorter than he was, which he got from his mother’s side of the family. Clark remembered seeing a photo of himself with Lilly’s family and the two of them laughing at how comical his six foot one figure looked standing next to her family. It had been a long time since his wife had passed in the tsunamis. He had moved on, without regret, but he couldn’t help but see her face in his.

He shook the memory from his thoughts and came back to the conversation.

“Do you remember during the President’s address, when he mentioned receiving aid from another species in the galaxy?”

“Yeah, everyone I know thinks that’s a load of crap.” Gray replied. “No one’s seen these ‘good’ aliens yet.”

“That’s because there’s only one.” Clark said, holding up a single finger. “and her name is Corlaine.”

Gray paused a moment before continuing. He carefully read his father to see if he was being serious or just messing around with him.

“No way. She’s coming here?”

Clark pursed his lips and nodded, then was distracted by the bubbling over of the water in a pot on the stove.

“Does she have three eyes, or scales?” Gray asked humorously. He came up beside his father and started helping him peel and dice the potatoes that would be going in the boiling water.

“No, she does not have scales or three eyes. She actually looks almost just like any other woman. Her eyes look slightly different though.” He said, thinking the last bit aloud. “and her voice, well, you’ll understand when you hear it.”

Gray laughed to himself.

The father and son finished the meal, miraculously saving the turkey from certain disaster. They were setting the table when they heard a knock from the door. Gray noticed his father blush a little before he walked to the door and smiled to himself. It was good to see his father taking interest in a woman. He had begun to worry about that a little.

Clark opened the door and found her standing with her hands clasped in front of her. The light from the porch painted a picturesque scene with the snow falling behind her. She was dressed in her customary cloak and robes, today though they were in shades of red and orange. Her long brown hair was perfect as ever. The contrast in the dark colors of her cloak and her dark hair gave her skin a pale perfection. Clark had absolutely no idea how old she was, it was impossible to tell, she had a timeless sense about her that was undefinable.

“What, no guards?” he asked.

“I did not require their presence.” she replied.

“How did you lose them?”

“I transferred here directly from my room, where they believe me to be right now.”

“Right, the Houdini thing. I forgot about that.” he said.

“What is a ‘hoodeenee’?” She asked with a puzzled look on her face.

“It’s uh, nothing.” he paused “Come inside. It’s cold out.”

She walked in the door and looked around the space. It was the first human domicile she had set foot in, aside from her own quarters.

Clark asked if he could take her cloak, she agreed. As he was placing her cloak in the closet, he noticed her standing in the middle of the room, studying the place. Gray was in the doorway to the kitchen, unsure of what he was seeing.

“Corlaine, this is my son Gray. Lieutenant Gray Henderson.”

She extended her hand, palm up, and Gray walked over to meet her. He took her hand softly and nodded.

“Nice to meet you Corlaine.”

“It is pleasure to meet you Gray.” she said. The multi tonal voices gently ebbed from her lips.

He had been nervous about meeting someone from another world and even though she looked human, her voice revealed otherwise. In defiance of the contrast in what his eyes were perceiving and what his ears were hearing, he felt a sense of calmness wash over him.

His father was right about her eyes too. They were of normal size for most humans but had a slight slant to them, but not quite Asian. The irises of her eyes swirled in different patterns and had fluorescent flecks of blue amongst a deep green.

“You’re right on time, dinner’s ready.” Clark said, breaking the moment.

The three of them sat at the table and ate. Clark was amused by the way Corlaine carefully studied the meal. She considered each small bite, as if mentally filing away the textures and tastes of every item.

“By the way dad, I’ve been made XO of the company.” Gray said, anxious to break the silence.

“Oh, that’s good news Gray. Congrats.” Clark said between a bite of turkey.

“May I inquire as to what an ‘ex-oh’ is and what company you work for?” Corlaine asked.

Clark and Gray looked at each other and laughed.

“Well...” Clark began. “‘XO’ is an abbreviation for ‘executive officer’ and the word ‘company’ also refers to a specific type of military unit. It means Gray here was promoted to a higher office within his unit. He is now, essentially, second in command of that unit.”

“I see. I apologize, but there are many complexities to your language. There are many words with multiple meanings and the context in which they are used is difficult to decipher.” she said.

After the meal, the tree of them retired to the living room. Clark put a few logs in the fireplace and they all enjoyed the warmth of the flame. He went into another room and came back with an audio cube, a small device that was connected to the network and housed two small but efficient speakers. He placed it on the mantel, then keyed up some old Frank Sinatra tunes. He had grown up listening to Sinatra with his grandfather and the holidays always reminded him of that.

“Tell me Clark, what is the significance of this holiday?” Corlaine asked.

“You know, there are a lot of different aspects to it really. I suppose it started long ago as a solstice festival, ancient people celebrated certain celestial events for agricultural reasons and often looked to the heavens as-- gods or mystical figures. Christianity, a major religion here, had the most influence on the holiday. Most people these days just consider it to be a day to be with family and cherish loved ones. Gray and I were never very religious though. We mostly just try to catch up every year.” Clark explained.

“Which reminds me...” Gray said. He got up and retrieved the wrapped package he had brought. “It’s also customary to give gifts!” he finished as he handed the package to his father.

“Uh oh.” Clark said as he unwrapped the gift. It was a 15 year old bottle of scotch.

“Where did you find this?” he asked excitedly once he noticed the year.

“Someone owed me a pretty big favor, so I made a deal” Gray said smiling.

Clark got up and retrieved two packages that had been under the tree and handed on of each to Corlaine and his son.

Gray opened the small box and pulled out an old scratched field compass. He held it up in his hand with a curious look.

“My father gave me that.” Clark said. “He carried it when he served, I carried it in Afghanistan. I thought you should have it.”

Gray nodded gravely, “Thanks dad.”

The two Henderson men shared the moment, veteran to veteran, father to son.

Gray ended the silence, “Aren't you going to open yours?” he said to Corlaine.

She looked down at the small box in her hands. Carefully, she opened it’s folding lid. Inside was a thin silver chain with a pendant dangling from it. The charm was a three-armed swirl of Celtic design. She held it up in front of her and let the light from the fire illuminate the necklace.

“It is very beautiful Clark. Thank you.” she said. Her eyes continued to study the gift.

“You’re welcome. It’s a necklace. Would you like some help putting it on?” he asked.

“Yes, please.” She said.

Clark moved further down the sofa and sat next to her. He took the necklace from her hands and opened the clasp. Corlaine lifted her hair for him and the scent of her consumed him as he clasped the necklace behind her neck. He was suddenly aware that Gray’s earlier accusations were indeed true. He hadn’t consciously been aware of the fact that he had become in awe of this woman until just now.

He willed himself to pull back and regain his composure. He tightened his lips in defiance of the emotion and sat up straight. She let her hair back down and straightened the pendant. It’s silver shine was bright against the dark red and orange of her garments. It’s shine helped him find peace of mind in the moment.

Corlaine herself, was also overcome by the moment. She felt the strong waves of emotion emanating from Clark as he placed the necklace around her neck. They collided with her consciousness the way the sea crashes against a cliff. Her own emotions welled beneath in the depths of her soul and caressed her mind. She allowed them to pass, careful not to let them consume her. She was not accustomed to tumultuous outbursts such as this. The weeks that had passed were hard, blocking the feelings and thoughts of those around her.

All of this happened, of course, in one fleeting instant. The moment had passed as quickly as it had come. Clark returned to his side of the couch and caught a side long glance from his son. The boy was in his prime and knew a move when he saw one, even if it was unnoticed by the perpetrator.

“Let’s crack open that bottle!” Gray said.

The younger man went into the kitchen and retrieved three tumblers from the cupboard and filled them with ice. He picked up the bottle and handed it to his father along with a glass. Gray handed Corlaine her glass before taking a seat again.

“Guess you’re staying here then?” Clark asked.

“Yeah, I had better anyway. It’s a long drive back and it’s getting late already.”

“No problem, there’s another bedroom you can sleep in.”

Clark opened the bottle and poured a little into everyone’s glass. He put the lid back on and set the bottle on the coffee table.

“Be careful with this stuff, it’s pretty strong.” he told Corlaine.

“It’ll put hair on your chest.” Gray said jokingly.

“Aeren do not have body hair.” she said while considering the liquid.

She tilted the glass and drank it all in one motion. A fraction of a second later, she coughed hard and held her hand to her throat, her face wincing and straining, her body doubled over slightly.

“This is not fit for consumption!” she wrestled with the words.

“I told you to be careful! You’re supposed to sip it.” Clark said. He took her glass and set it back on the table.

She began to regain her composure and let loose a slow breath. The two men could still see traces of the pain in her eyes.

“I believe I will-- retire for the evening” she said, still choking a little. “Thank you for the food and the gift.”

She rose to her feet and had vanished before either of the two could get a word out. Clark huffed in frustration and downed the rest of his glass. He looked over at Gray who’s mouth was wide open in shock.

“Yeah, I forgot to tell you about Houdini thing.”

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