Sand shifted under Simeon’s feet, under the stairs, the buildings, the entire town.
James waited, eyes on the horizon like a onyx sculpture of a man as he gazed across the misty beach towards the booming waves.
The waves summoned James’ magic away from Simeon while Simeon’s magic swirled him away into the echoes of the past.
They drew together, shifting with the waves, the sand, the misty rain.
Drifting Leaves, Misty Skies
By Meyari McFarland
Simeon rubbed one shoe against the grass, carefully scrubbing sand off of it. The surf boomed off to his right, shushing as the waves withdrew only to crash again. His toes were cold. Wet. Sandy. There really wasn’t much point to cleaning the sand off his shoes when his feet were covered in sand, too. Still Simeon carefully brushed them off, making sure every speck of gray fell off the white plastic sole, the neon green upper.
Off to his left James waited, eyes on the horizon. He could have just arrived at the beach. Face calm, shoulders relaxed. He’d thrust his hands into his pockets, all but the thumbs that stuck out, hooked through a belt loop. James’ mop of curly hair drooped over his forehead to shield his eyes, dark against the gray concrete retaining wall that kept the cliff from slumping down onto the beach. His skin looked darker than normal down here, almost black instead of warm reddish brown.
Cedric had sniffed the first time he saw James, had curled a lip and turned away to look side-long at Simeon as if he suspected that Simeon had lost his mind. Of course, Cedric always did that. He’d sneered at Simeon’s first grade painting of the sky, at the news that he was going to be in band in junior high. When Simeon’s test results came back positive, Cedric’s sneer had curled so high that Simeon had punched him in the face.
Just because Cedric had no gifts, no magic, didn’t mean he had the right to put Simeon down.
He still did. Every time they spoke, emailed, texted, there would always be some snide comment about Simeon that was designed to make him feel like crap.
“He’s not here,” James murmured. His voice blended into the crash and suck of the waves just as James always blended into his environment, quiet, still, calm.
“I know,” Simeon said. “Except for how he is.”
James turned his head, electric green eyes softening to deep moss green when he saw Simeon’s face. He chuckled and came over to brush a hand over Simeon’s cheek. The sand dropped from Simeon’s feet, fell from his shoes. Simeon ducked his head and smiled, looked up through his lashes and laughed under his breath that his heart could beat so fast just from James smiling at him that way.
Simeon blushed as James took his hand, led him up the stairs towards the street above. Sand should have stuck to his feet. The stairs, damp with misty rain, dotted with soggy blackberry and maple leaves that had fallen into the stair well, were coated with sand. Many of the steps domed in the center from the amount of sand people had tracked up on the bottoms of their shoes.
No sand stuck. When they got to the top, Simeon panting a little, James with his eyes crinkled in a quiet smile that didn’t touch his lips, Simeon put on his shoes without any worries about sand between his toes. It was still odd. A little frightening. Exhilarating.
“Do you think I’ll learn how to do that?” Simeon asked as they slowly strolled up the street as it wound to the left and then climbed sharply towards the main road above.
“The sand?” James asked. He shrugged. “Maybe. I doubt it. It’s not your gift, really.”
His eyes were distant, looking ahead, not at the road, per se, but the future that only James could see. The future? A future, maybe. James had told Simeon that the future shifted, drifting like leaves in the wind, subject to the choices they made moment to moment.
How odd it must be to see a world so ephemeral. The world that Simeon saw was concrete. Ivy leaves gone dark with winter dormancy, moss burgeoning towards the weak watery sunlight. The power pole on the side of the road was just a pole, tar pressed deep into its cellular structure to protect it against the inevitable watery rot that already ate away at its base under the earth. Beneath the concrete and asphalt, gravel and sand.
So much sand. The entire hillside was based on sand. Simeon’s steps slowed as he traced the layers of sand, bits of shell and driftwood from eons ago pressing tighter and tighter as the weight on top of them bore down. Deeper, down under the surface, below sea level, hundreds of feet below there was rock, true rock, but that was all lava. Old lava, cold and still, poured out of volcanoes that had lived millions of years ago.
James’ hand touched Simeon’s cheek.
“Where did you go?” James asked once Simeon blinked his way back into his body.
“Oh, ah, down,” Simeon admitted. “Sand and then deeper to the bedrock. Sorry.”
The single word was quiet. James’ eyes were awed though, as if Simeon had done something incredible instead of ridiculously stupid. He could have gotten lost in the earth, could have gotten stuck and then his body would have fallen, broken something, walked into traffic, died.
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” James assured Simeon. His eyes grinned at Simeon’s start. “I could see the futures flipping by as you considered them. Ready for something to eat?”
“Oh, yes, that would be nice,” Simeon said. “I’m hungry.”
James nodded, taking Simeon’s hand again so that he could lead and be led back to their hotel room, back to the car and then off to one of the town’s many restaurants to eat. It felt good to have James there, keeping Simeon on track. Even though his mentor said that Simeon had a handle on his gifts Simeon didn’t feel as though he did.
Too many things derailed him, sent his magic tracing off through the world to find the history and life of the objects around him.
Their hotel was a constant danger for Simeon. It was an old, old building, as old as the town, filled with knickknacks and trinkets, antiques from all over the world. Every single object had a history, from the stairs that creaked and popped when you climbed them to the maps papering the bedroom walls. Even their little sitting room held landmines in the form of a ship in a bottle with a broken mast that told Simeon of a maker’s patient fingers and a child’s careless disregard.
Which was why he’d suggested the place when they arrived in town. Practice. Stability. Something to focus on when Cedric reared in his head and made him feel like a fool for believing that James actually loved him. Which he did. James said so and showed it and their friends said it was true, all of the ones with empathy and telepathy, with glimpses of the future that were more stable than James’.
Bedrock, James said Simeon was his bedrock, the stability that he could build a life on like the ancient lava buried under the sand that supported the hotel’s foundation. James chuckled and squeezed Simeon’s fingers.
“You are,” James said.
“Not really,” Simeon countered. “Just… boring.”
“You’re not boring,” James protested, mild for anyone else but nearly a shout out of James. “You’re perfect. Want to walk?”
“Um, sure?” Simeon said, asked, blinked as he stared in James’ dark eyes that wrinkled in a delighted grin. “If you want.”
“It’s not far,” James said. “Just down on the dock.”
“Oh, that would be great,” Simeon said, straightening up and smiling so brightly that he probably looked like an idiot. “Larry’s is a great restaurant.”
James nodded. They walked up the hill past their hotel set high on the bluff and then kept going, cars whizzing by. The road curved to the left, then the right. Two blocks and they were out of pine trees dripping mist and into tourist destinations like the glass shop that would let you blow your own floats, little brightly colored balls that would never see a net or dance on the sea. They slowly sauntered past the antique shop that held books and shells and tidbits of other people’s lives.
Simeon nearly walked in, drawn by the many bits of history only he could see. The only thing that stopped him was James’ grip on his wrist, firm, implacable. Even a simple thing like taking a walk challenged Simeon’s control.
“You never have had any control,” Cedric said in Simeon’s mind, his past.
“That’s just my gift,” Simeon protested, his heart racing. “It’s who I am.”
The street faded, replaced by Cedric, their parent’s living room with the broken old couch, brown fabric stained by the dog, by Simeon’s clumsiness, by sheer age. He could smell the woodstove, ash laying heavily across his tongue. Even though he knew he wasn’t there, was long gone, long out of that house, Simeon’s stomach ached with the hunger that had marked his childhood.
“Well, you’re a disgrace to this family, that’s who you are,” Cedric replied. He huffed and looked down his nose at Simeon. “You could at least attempt to be on time to dinner. Mother cried that you weren’t here to eat before she had to go to work.”
A gentle hand drifted across Simeon’s cheek. It felt so very far away, too large against his child’s cheek. Simeon blinked, listening not to Cedric but the quiet, gentle voice that called to him from another time, a less important time, a less real time.
But no, it wasn’t less real. Cedric was the one who wasn’t real. He was gone, out of Simeon’s life. Simeon had told him off, had broken all ties to his family when they insisted that he had to get a job instead of get training for his gifts. Had refused to return any calls, any letters, anything at all even though he couldn’t stop himself from reading the messages that Cedric sent.
Simeon breathed deep, letting the air stretch his lungs until he could feel every single rib expanding. He held it until the air burned in his lungs, then let it out slowly. The past, Cedric’s disapproving sneer, faded.
“James,” Simeon whispered as James’ beautiful brown face appeared once more in front of him. “James.”
“Yes,” James agreed.
“How long?” Simeon asked.
“Only a couple of minutes,” James said. “You stopped on the sidewalk just as we turned towards Larry’s. Not bad. You came back quickly today.”
Simeon stopped as James laid a finger over his lips, dark eyes wrinkling at the edges. His cheeks heated as James chuckled. He’d promised, accept the praise. Even when he didn’t believe he deserved it, at least for as long as they were here on vacation together.
“Sorry,” Simeon said, kissing the tip of James’ finger.
“Better,” James said. “Let’s eat. You have to be starving.”
Two more blocks and they were there, Larry’s, a big old restaurant set right on top of the wharf. Huge windows filled the outer walls so that you could sit and stare out at the ocean. James didn’t ask for an inner table so Simeon did. The waves could capture James as easily as antique shops tripped Simeon. They ended up next to a tower full of stuffed animals, plush penguins tumbled over moose and whales and puppies that looked like a cross between a golden retriever and a Doberman.
Lunch was rich, thick clam chowder served in bread bowls. James ate as if it was the strangest thing he’d ever had. Simeon laughed as he ate, inhaling the chowder and then cutting the bowl up to eat that, too. He was hungrier than he’d thought. No surprise given his failures of the day. Except James didn’t think they were failures.
Odd, that. Simeon knew getting lost in the past was dangerous. Why didn’t James think it was bad?
“Because you always come back,” James explained. He breathed a laugh as Simeon stared at him. “You’re talking to yourself.”
“Oh, no,” Simeon groaned. “Not really?”
“Mm-hmm,” James murmured, eyes twinkling with amusement. “Full yet?”
“Mostly,” Simeon said. “You going to eat your bowl?”
James laughed out loud, switched plates with Simeon and then smiled as he watched Simeon eat every bit of the second bowl, too. He sipped his lemonade and then paid for the two of them while Simeon hurriedly gulped down his cola. Then James led Simeon back out onto the wharf, out over the water so that they could stare across the bay at a huge flock of squabbling pelicans bobbing on the waves.
“Are you all right out here?” Simeon asked. “I mean, the water. It gets you.”
“Not here,” James said. “This is a solid point for me. It’s always been solid. This is the first place I saw, you know, right here. Right now.”
“Now?” Simeon asked, blinking. “Why now? What happened, will happen, that makes now so important?”
James turned and looked at Simeon, his face still and serious. His eyes traced Simeon’s face, then his fingers squeezed Simeon’s fingers. There was a tiny tremor in James’ lips, something that Simeon had only seen the first day when they were introduced, the second day that Simeon was in training, still shaking and terrified because everything he touched drew him into the past and away from his body.
He’d trembled until James caught his hands, held them tightly and smiled with his eyes but not his mouth. Simeon thought he’d fallen a little in love in that moment. Over the next couple of years that love had grown. Grown enough that Simeon had found the strength to cut his family out of his life, had been able to find his own way. Everything that Simeon had now had started in that moment where James had reached across a void that Simeon had thought impossible to gently remind him of his humanity.
“This is harder than I thought it would be,” James said, his cheeks darkening in a blush that was barely visible.
“Did I do something wrong?” Simeon asked. A thousand nightmare scenarios darted through his mind only to be stopped cold as James pulled a little box, a very plain navy blue box out of his pocket. “No. James!”
“Open it,” James said.
He put the box in Simeon’s hand, holding both of Simeon’s hands in his own until Simeon could force his fingers to move. There was a ring inside, simple, silver, a band with only an infinity symbol inscribed on the top. Simeon choked.
“You’re the past,” James explained. His voice cracked. “I’m the future. We ground each other. We match each other. I, um. I saw this first. You, this moment, was my first vision. I never thought it would be so hard to live it though.”
James’ normal calm, his distance, evaporated like a fog under bright sun. He looked nervous, so afraid, pulse throbbing at his throat and fingers shaking against Simeon’s wrists. Simeon blinked at him, the precious ring cradled in his hands.
“I would never tell you no,” Simeon whispered.
“In some futures you do, did,” James whispered back, shuddering and looking away, out to the pelicans and ever-shifting water. “You decide Cedric is right, that you’re not worthy. That you’re too broken. But you’re not, Simeon. You’re not broken at all. Your gift is incredible and you deserve love. I. I don’t say it well but. You deserve so much love.”
Simeon choked. He shoved the ring box into his pocket and grabbed James, pulling him into a hug that drew a huff of disapproval from a passing old woman, approving laughter from a younger pair of kids about their age. James’ arms wrapped around his back and Simeon buried his face in James’ shoulder.
“I want this,” Simeon whispered. “Yes. You. Us, I want this. I want to be able to come back here for years, decades. I want to be able to relive this day, this moment. I want a whole lifetime with you.”
James sagged a little. His arms tightened around Simeon until it hurt, until the breath left his lungs. Simeon hugged back, shaking and laughing. A wave crashed against the shore, a sneaker wave that sent a wash of water up over the sand to scare the seagulls. He could smell salt and sand, clam chowder and James’ deodorant underneath it all.
“Love you,” Simeon whispered.
“Forever,” James agreed, arms relaxing around Simeon as his gift made Simeon’s dream a reality. “Forever, Simeon.”
Find This Story:
On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On Amazon $2.99 ebook or $5.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB
If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!