hide and seek

The small shop was nearly empty by midmorning, and Summer was bored. Jessamine had gone home to lunch with his da, and he was going to help make biscuits for his dinner after, so he wouldn't be back all day. For a while Summer had tried playing out around the herbs in the greenhouse, but it wasn't very much fun all by himself, and his father and da were too busy keeping shop to play games. Besides, five year old Summer prided himself on being big enough to not be looked after, and it just wouldn't do to ruin all that now.

So here he was, back inside the little dried-herb-smelling shop and trying without luck to find something amusing to do. Making faces at his reflection in the glass cupboard fronts had worked for a while, but then, to his dismay, his da had laughed at him and said that he would be better wiping down those cupboards than getting them smeary, so that game had been spoiled. After that he had tried to play jacks on the back stoop, but jacks got boring fast when there was no one to compete against. Marbles quickly met the same end, and he couldn't play hopscotch because he couldn't draw and he couldn't count past ten. Ten squares was beginner hopscotch, Jessamine had said, and Jessamine was seven whole years old. He ought to know things like that. Summer didn't want to play cub hopscotch, that wouldn't be any fun.

By that time an hour had passed just searching for something to do, and it was time to eat the cherry preserve sandwich Summer and his da had packed that morning, so Summer went to nose the brown paper sack out of the cupboard in the back rooms where his da always put it for safekeeping. After a few moments of rummaging through bagfuls and boxes of hurriedly stored herbs (ones that had been leftovers from a sale or excess from a bumper crop), he had found what he wanted, then dragged it back out onto the stoop to eat it.

The sandwich had gone before long, leaving only the sugar cookie at the bottom of the paper bag. Summer stared at it glumly. On days when Jessamine was around, they would have shared the cookie between the two of them, and Jessamine would have kept a crumb or two to add to their bag of crumbs for feeding the ducks on the pond at Jessamine's house. A great sigh escaped Summer's small chest as he dropped the cookie back into his sack and folded the top edge over to protect it. He didn't really feel very hungry for sweets just then; maybe he would save it for later.

"'R you busy?"

The voice startled Summer so much he almost lost hold of his bag. He felt his face warm, sure that he had jumped halfway to the moon and humiliated to have looked so cubish in front of a stranger. It had to be a stranger, because his nose didn't remember this smell at all, and his nose was very good at remembering that sort of thing.

Still as red as the cherries he had just eaten, he ventured a peek up through his rumpled fringe of white hair at the Kindred he'd have to avoid from now on, since it smelled like a male and in Summer's experience, males *never* let you forget things like this.

"No," he replied, being polite like his da taught him, in spite of the terrible situation. The stranger, a Kindred about Summer's age but with thick curls of a bright orange colour instead of Summer's flat snowy white, shifted uncomfortably, looking surprisingly as if he had no intentions of teasing at all. His eyes, big and blue much like Summer's own, were shy. Summer dubiously decided to give this new Kindred a chance and scooted over on his step to make room.

"D'you wanna sit w' me?"

The stranger shuffled again. "Can I?"

"Sure." Summer scooted further over, feeling a little better now that he knew there wouldn't be any teasing. "There's 'nough room. You sit there," he patted the empty spot, "an' I'll sit here."

The new Kindred nodded and smiled. "Thanks," he said, settling down on his side of the step, and for a minute they just looked at each other and stayed quiet.

"So what's your name?" Summer asked finally, his bag now tucked between his knees and his chin held in his hands. The newer Kindred scuffed his sneakers in the dust that rimmed the base of the step.

"Zephyr. What's yours?"

"Mine's Summer, 'cause I was born in th' summer. Where'd y' come from?"

"From th' city," the one who said he was Zephyr replied, pointing around the little shop and back up the road. "Da wanted some stuff from here so we came to get it. The man at the counter said you were back here, an' I could come t' see, so I did."

Summer nodded, scuffing up the dust too. "Tha's m' father. Da takes care of the green'ouse an' stuff like that, an' I help 'im."

"Really?" Zephyr surveyed Summer with interest. "Is it hard?"

"Nope. Da does most of it," Summer admitted. "I water mostly, an' sometimes he lets me pick th' plants. 'S not hard. But 's fun."

"My da paints an' Papa sculpts, but they don' let me help," Zephyr said, resting his head sidewise on his hands so he could look at Summer. "I do mudpies, though. You wanna play a game?"

Summer considered the question. "Okay," he conceded finally. "What'll we play?"

The other's eyes swept over the backyard, evaluating it. "Well," he said once he was done, "there's lots of grass an' bushes to hide with. Let's play hide an' seek."

"Okay," Summer told him, sitting up straight and turning on the step so that they were facing each other. Consideringly, he took the sack out of his lap and looked at it; then, coming to a conclusion, he took the cookie out and offered it to his newfound friend. The breeze blew around his ears, ruffling his hair and Zephyr's.

"D'you want my cookie?"

Zephyr's forehead crinkled in thought. "You keep half."

"Okay." Summer broke the cookie carefully the way Jessamine had taught him to, and handed one half over into Zephyr's waiting hands. Zephyr smiled at him, and each of them took a bite from their half.

"'Kay, you ready now?" he asked when he was finished chewing.

Summer nodded. "Who'll count and who'll hide?"

"I dunno," Zephyr said, scratching his ear. "How high can y' count?"

"T' ten," Summer replied, squirming slightly in case Zephyr thought that was bad. "But I can do it really good," he assured, trying to make it better. "An' I can hide."

Slowly, Zephyr thought about it. Summer felt even more squirmy.

"I can count t' twenny," he said after what felt to Summer like a very long time. "Bu' you're smaller, you can prob'ly hide better. So you hide, I'll count." He got up off the stoop and went over to the big, black walnut tree that grew just beside the greenhouse. "See, I'll stand here."

"Okay," Summer said again, standing up too. He left the bag on the bottom step. "I'm ready."

"A'right." Zephyr hid his face in the tree trunk and started to count. "One..."

Summer took off into the bushes, making sure to rustle on the way. Then, trying not to giggle at his expertise, he crawled around the back tunnel behind the bushes and ran off towards the blueberry bushes across the lawn. Zephyr would never find him there, he thought, curling up with his cookie to wait until his friend gave up.

Two minutes and a whole half a cookie later, Summer was still curled under the bushes, trying hard not to laugh out loud at the frustrated rustles coming from the big bushes across the lawn. If he listened really, really hard, he could hear Zephyr muttering to himself about dark spaces and good hiders. He bit his lip to keep another giggle back.

Finally, Zephyr gave up.

"Okay, you can come out now! You win!"

Summer laughed, crawling back out from under the bush. "I'm over here! Not over there!"

Zephyr was standing back over next to the steps. When he saw Summer, his eyes widened and his mouth fell open; then he sat down all of a sudden on the bottom step and started giggling too.

In the middle of their laughing, Summer heard a call from the front door of the shop.


Their giggles went quiet. Zephyr sighed.

"Yes, Da?" he yelled back, looking sadly at Summer, who was still laying on his stomach in the grass under the bushes.

"Time to go home!"

"Okay, Da! I'm coming!"

Summer crawled out from under the bush. "D'you have t' go?"

Zephyr nodded glumly. "Da's gotta make supper." He frowned slightly. "Thanks for playin' with me..."

"Thanks too," said Summer, feeling lonely again. "'T was nice."

Dragging their feet, the pair walked together to the front of the shop where Zephyr's da was waiting for him.

Years later, well grown and almost despaired of finding his mate, Summer made the trip that so many country-dwelling Kindred did. He went to the city. Out of his element and on edge, strange and pungent city smells all around him, he wandered the streets in search of the scent he had encountered so long ago in the little backyard of his family's herb shop. His mind did not know that he was doing it. But his nose did.

His nose was very good at remembering that sort of thing.

Dark streets melded into dark streets, one streetlamp casting an odd harsh glow over the entire scene, and Summer could feel the ache growing inside his belly as he loped through the heavy darkness. Not the sharp, chilled ache of the Lonely Sickness; no cub-bearer had suffered that for centuries long forgotten, though by now Summer nearly wished that his parents would simply let him go. Kindred of both genders suffered more the longer they went without their counterpart. The mating desire grew and grew with every season that passed alone, until Summer wondered how those who remained alone could bear it. He knew he couldn't.

Then footsteps that were not his own echoed loudly in the silence. Summer spun around, ready to protect himelf if things came to that, but it was too late; he was pinned already to the wall. Frightened and shocked, he prepared to snap at the intruder, but in the split second before he did, his nose and brain came to an abrupt conclusion.

Heart lifting with new hope, Summer lifted his eyes through his rumpled fringe of white hair and looked up into eyes as blue as his own.