Porch Meeting: Bonnie at Fifteen
The following is a bit story about characters from the world of Birthmarked.
The field laborers were collecting their lunch buckets and heading home when Bonnie Orion came up out of the unlake. She slowed to watch how the late afternoon light washed the men and women in anonymous orange, aging them into indistinguishable silhouettes, until the road fed up against the first houses of Wharfton, and with the changing angle of light, they transformed into unique, tired individuals.
She wasn’t particularly surprised when Theo Rupp veered out to join her, and when she saw how he smiled, she didn’t have the heart to tell him it was only coincidence that had brought her there at that time.
“What herbs were you looking for today?” he asked, falling into step beside her.
“A few different kinds. The rose hips are ripe just now. I found some chamomile, too.”
He was filthy from his work, his shirt drenched with sweat, and his arms where he’d rolled up his sleeves were a burnished tan.
“Don’t you ever burn?” she asked.
“Sometimes. Why? Do you have some lotion for me?”
She shook her head. “Try keeping your sleeves down, like the smart people.”
He laughed, and pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “I promised my mother I’d pick up some eggs. Come with me, and then I’ll walk you back.”
“You don’t need to bother,” she said.
“It’ll just take a minute. It’s right on the way. It’ll be good to catch up.”
Bonnie didn’t want to go, but Theo had such an awkward, eager way of dipping his face to look under her hat brim that she couldn’t be rude to him. He walked sideways up the road, talking animatedly to make her laugh. Soon he pushed open a gate to a dusty yard, and she looked up the path to a small, stone house with a porch along the front.
“See? That wasn’t far,” Theo said. “This will only take a minute. I promise.”
A figure sat cross-legged on the floor of the porch, huddled over a jumbled handful of small gears. The slant of the late sunlight had shifted the line of shade into a sharp diagonal, and when he glanced up, he had to squint in their direction. Bonnie realized he wasn’t a child with toys, but a young man only slightly older than she was.
“Hey, Jasper,” Theo said. “Do you have those eggs?”
“They’re around back,” Jasper said, his gaze on Bonnie.
“You going to get them for me?” Theo said.
Jasper lifted the gears. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“You’ve been in the middle of that for half a year,” Theo said.
“Four months,” Jasper said. He brushed his brown hair off his forehead, still looking at her.
She came nearer. Something smelled like coffee, but she couldn’t see a cup or pot. “Hi,” she said.
“This is Bonnie Orion,” Theo said. “Jasper Stone. We’re kind of in a hurry. The eggs?”
Jasper gave him a little wave but didn’t get up. “Help yourself. They’re in a basket, on the shelf, by the coop. You know the place.”
Theo put a hand on his hip for a second. “Is this what you call service?”
Shifting his regard to Theo, Jasper simply waited, the picture of calm self-assurance, and said nothing.
“Great,” Theo said. With an apologetic shrug to Bonnie, he started around the corner. “I’ll just be a second.”
“It’s okay,” Bonnie said.
Jasper patted the step before him. “Want to sit?”
Bonnie wasn’t sure. She couldn’t quite figure him out, but she took a step closer to where shade fell on her shoulders. A banjo rested on the chair behind him, and an odd metal frame stood waist-high beside that. “What are you working on?” she asked.
“It’s the pieces for a sewing machine. One of my neighbors gave me the kit after I did some work for her. It came with no assembly directions and it’s missing a couple pieces, so it’s taking me longer than it should. I don’t get to work on it very often, either, but I can’t let it go, you know?” Jasper’s voice had a rusty quality she liked, and his brown eyes were attentive and curious. “I’ll figure it out,” he added.
“I’m sure you will.” She smoothed her skirt beneath her as she sat, and set the basket beside her. “Is your shirt purple?”
He laughed. “Yes. Odd hue, isn’t it? I like how it feels, though. It’s soft.”
“It’s hard to tell the color in the orange light.” She wished she could touch it.
“Go ahead,” he said, offering out his arm.
She pinched a bit of his sleeve lightly between her fingers to rub it, liking it, and then let go. She looked down at her fingers, almost expecting to find them tinged with purple.
“Theo likes you, you know. Are you going out with him?” Jasper asked. He lifted his eyebrows.
“That’s good,” he said. “Anyone else?”
She shook her head, smiling. “Are you always this direct?”
“When it matters. What’s in your basket?”
“Rose hips. Chamomile.”
He tugged the basket, peering down inside. “Did you dig them up because you need the roots, or are you transplanting them?” he asked.
“Transplanting them,” she said. “I’m trying to start an herb garden. It’s hard without much water, but if these grow in the unlake, they should be okay in Western Sector Three, don’t you think?”
“Sure.” He rubbed a bit of the chamomile leaf and then lifted the scent to just below his nose. “My mother likes this,” he said.
“Where is she?” Bonnie reached to separate out a bunch of the chamomile and twirled it gently upside down to shake off a few flakes of dirt.
“My parents went to the Tvaltar.”
“And left you behind?” She wondered if his family couldn’t afford an extra pass.
He smiled. “I wanted to stay and do this.”
She glanced down. Besides the knot of gears he held in his hands, other metal, mechanical pieces were carefully laid out on a clean piece of gray cloth. She picked up a heavy, flat grill of ironwork, recognizing it as a treadle.
“Do you know what it’s supposed to look like?” she asked.
“I stopped in at the tailor’s once and inspected the innards of his machine. It’s a different make, but I got the idea.”
“I’m not mechanical at all,” Bonnie said, setting the treadle back in line. “My mom works at a repair shop. She might be able to help.”
“She probably could, but where’s the fun in that?”
She laughed. She knew what he meant. He leaned his elbow easily on his knee, and let his fingers go idle as he smiled at her.
Theo came around the corner of the house with the eggs in his lunch bucket, and when he saw them, his smile visibly faded. Bonnie felt an odd hitch in her chest, as if, without even trying, she’d disappointed him. She slid forward on the step, preparing to stand, and she realized that if Jasper asked her to stay a little longer, she would want to.
“Find the eggs okay?” Jasper asked Theo.
“Yes.” He took a nugget wrapped in brown paper from his lunch pail and set it on the seat of the chair beside the banjo. Bonnie guessed it was a chunk of the hard cheese Theo’s mother often traded.
“Thanks,” Jasper said.
“We’re on our way, then,” Theo said. “Ready, Bonnie?”
As she stood and turned to look at Jasper once more, a breeze lifted a strand of her light hair before her eyes and she had to reach to clear it free and hold it back for a moment. She offered Jasper the bunch of chamomile.
“I can’t pay,” he said.
“It’s all right. It’s a gift for your mother,” Bonnie said.
Jasper reached for it, twirling it slightly, and when he lifted his gaze to hers, his smile was rather strained. “Tell me something now, Masister,” Jasper said. “Are you going to break my heart?”
She could have laughed.
Theo certainly did. “Very smooth, Jasper.”
Bonnie took a step backward, toward the gate, but she was smiling deeply now. He would come and see her garden. She would see his sewing machine when it was finished. She didn’t care how she knew these things. She just did.
“I never would,” she said to Jasper, lightly enough so that Theo would think she was joking.
“Good,” Jasper said. “Then I can let you go now.”
“That’s a big relief, I’m sure,” Theo said. “Come on, Bonnie. The guy’s crazy.”
She nodded, happy. And she was nice to Theo all the way back to Western Sector Three, because he was the one who had introduced her to Jasper Stone, and everything sweet in the world was destined to come true.