The sky was bright with the warm May sun, and a breeze swirled the long grass. Gavin stepped out of the rental car to admire the quaint aureolin house and the scent of chamomile, listening to the song of many honeybees in the air. The moment he slammed the car door, a woman came running from the house and greeted him with a smile and an embrace. "Gavin! It's so good to see you."
"I'm so glad to be able to visit," he answered, suddenly grateful for the security in the embrace of a friend. He withdrew and saw the same girl he knew many years earlier, with long chestnut hair and gentle blue eyes.
"Come on inside," she said and led him toward the house. "I supposed you are used to tea in the afternoon, so I made sure to put a kettle on the stove."
"Go raibh maith agat. That is a kind thing to do."
He stomped his shoes on the welcome mat outside her home before stepping inside. The large windows made the entire home sunny, and wooden floors added to the warmth. A square living room lay ahead, with a woven rug in the middle and a television at one side. A hall on the right led to an assortment of bedrooms and a bathroom. The kitchen was almost immediately to the left.
"Take a seat," June Lily said as she pulled out a chair. She reached for the kettle on the stove and poured steaming water into two cups, one of which she set before him. "There."
"Your home is beautiful," Gavin remarked as he observed the small glass vase of pansies in the middle of the table and the stained glass lamp dangling above his head. Porcelain animals perched on the counters, as if standing guard.
"Thank you," she replied humbly. "We try and make it feel like home. And you, I have heard great things about your home."
"Probably not from my children," Gavin gave a wan smile and removed the tea bag from his cup. But June Lily looked up with wide eyes.
"You don't believe that! Abby always says how great you are with the animals. And Ethan always has stories to tell about something or other that happened with them. He always makes me laugh with his chicken stories."
"Maybe I exaggerated," Gavin replied with an undertone of pleasure. "I suppose they are more adjusted than they were at the beginning."
They savored their tea in silence for some minutes, each simply enjoying the company of the other. Gavin stared out the window at the back of the room and saw the vegetable garden she kept, with the occasional bee darting in and out. He assumed she had multiplied her colonies since last she wrote.
"Have you any colonies that need some work today?"
June Lily smiled and swallowed the last of her tea. "Yes. That would be great. Thank you."
A soft breeze whistled through the trees when they stepped outside in the dense white suits. The aroma of chamomile rose from the grass. June Lily led the way to the array of wooden boxes that lay beside the small orchard of blossoming pear trees.
"Most of them are doing well," she remarked. "But I have a couple colonies that might need help."
"All right," Gavin pried open the first lid and set it aside. Bees meandered around the wooden frames until June Lily squeezed the smoker and they scrambled down within them. She lifted the first frame and raised it up to the sun. Gavin squinted to see any brood and smiled when he could see the pattern in the middle. "There they are."
"Yes," June Lily smiled as well. "They're doing well."
She replaced the frame and eased the lid back over the box. Several more colonies were peeked into and some were rearranged before the purring of a car engine could be heard from the driveway. June Lily rose straightened and perched her hands on her hips.
"That would be my children, back from their play date."
"I look forward to meeting them."
As June Lily cracked open the next hive, Gavin could see three small girls round the corner of the house and rush toward them, the eldest with a toddler in her arms. Their mother straightened again at their shouts of greeting and made her way closer, removing her veiled helmet.
"Good afternoon," she smiled until Beth arrived ahead of her sisters, a wailing boy perched on her hip with a scraped and bleeding knee. "What happened?"
"Dale fell when we got out of the car," answered Leah as she eyed Gavin curiously.
"Hush, Dale, it's okay," June Lily accepted her son into her arms and kissed his cheek. "This is my friend Gavin. These are my children – Beth is the oldest, and that's Aurelia, Leah, and this is Dale."
The sun was beginning to sink beneath the horizon, striking the sky with soft orange rays. Gavin sensed the time had come to leave, so he unzipped and stepped out of his suit.
"Where are you going?" asked Leah with inquisitive blue eyes. Strawberry blond Aurelia wrapped her arms around the legs of her mother.
"It's time for me to leave," he answered with his sight on June Lily. "I will see you again in the next week or two, perhaps. At least, sometime before I leave again."
"Yes, the rodeo is coming up. I hope we'll see you there."
He answered with a nod and excused himself from the mother and her four children. But before he rounded the corner to return to his rental car, he paused to observe them for a moment or two. Then, with a smile, he eased out of sight.