A/N: originally written for a secret santa event. It's just a wee vignette, friends facing up to life.
On top of old
It had taken Catalina most of the morning to get Marina out of the house, fed, and up to the trailhead for Paloma Ridge. Catalina had given Marina no warning: she arrived when it was barely light out, and Marina was still buried in her comforter on the couch. Marina took her time at every step: emerging from her cocoon, answering the door, comprehending Catalina's invitation: showering, dressing, giving her answer. Even now, wrapped in several thin layers of summer-weight sweaters, she was moving slowly up the trail.
She always moved slowly these days, as if she was still stuck in that moment that turned her to a widow, like a fly in amber. But Catalina was patient. She had an agenda, but her agenda scared her, and she was not in a hurry to move it along.
It wasn't the first time Marina had gone to the ridge trail, but she usually just noodled around in the first couple of loops and didn't go all the way up the ridge. She had the impression that the trail was long and difficult after the Lost Kiln signpost, so she had never tried it. Catalina assured her it was well within her capabilities, but she still had her doubts.
Not long after they passed the signpost, the sky turned dark. "Damn, it's cold without the sun," Marina said, huddling her gloved hands into the pockets of her topmost hoody, a thin thing with a picture of a ringed planet on the breast.
Catalina looked alarmed. "You don't want to go back, do you? It's not that far and the view is spectacular."
"No, it's okay," Marina said. But if she had been by herself she'd have turned back before this. Maybe right after they got out of the car. Maybe back at the restaurant. No, she wouldn't have left the house at all.
"Good, good," Catalina said, one hand swinging very close to Marina's. "It's a beautiful walk."
"Yeah," Marina said. It was. The land had greened up late this year, but now, especially in this lowering light, the hills seemed to glow all around them.
"Maybe we'll get lucky and see wildflowers. There were some early ones last year."
"Really? The rain got started so late."
"Some, anyway. Mostly they were late."
They said nothing for another few minutes. A woman with a dog passed them going in the other direction. She was wearing a workman's short jacket and a baseball cap, like Sarai did. She nodded to them, and they nodded to her. The dog sniffed their feet as they passed.
Marina screwed up her face. She wouldn't cry, not here, not now. It wouldn't be fair to Catalina, who was just trying to be a good friend.
Passing the Lost Kiln Trail signpost was a jolt. This was territory she had never travelled with Sarai. For a moment she was lost. But Catalina knew where they were going.
"Fooey, it's beginning to drizzle, I'm sorry," Catalina said. "We can go back if you want to." Clearly, Catalina didn't want to.
"If it's just a drizzle . . ."
"The weather report didn't say rain."
Catalina smiled so broadly that it embarrassed Marina. She should be smiling at someone nice, with that kind of smile.
The drizzle came and went. The trail gradually got steeper. They walked past a pungent brace of bay trees and a memory of bringing home a pocketful of leaves to slip under the sheets to try to keep the fleas away, and the smell of Sarai's flannel night shirts. But Sarai was dead, and Marina didn't sleep in the bed anymore.
"You okay?" Catalina asked.
"Yeah," Marina said. Catalina didn't need to hear about how Sarai's dirty laundry was still in heaps on the bed Marina didn't sleep in anymore.
It was quiet. The birds were laying low, waiting for the clouds to float past before they made any declarations.
A sharp lash of rain, horizontal and icy, came at them from the side of the ridge. Marina recoiled. The next gust was just as cold but bore no rain.
"We could turn back," Catalina said. "But it's about five minutes to the lookout."
Yeah, let's turn back, Marina thought, but she looked at Catalina's hopeful face and nodded. "Sure, let's keep on."
Another one of those brilliant smiles. "Oh good," Catalina said. "If you don't get knocked over by the view I'll refund your time with a dividend."
Then, as the trail took a sudden steep turn, Catalina said, "It's only steep for a little bit. After that, it's the lookout."
This part of the trail was steep. Marina clung to the branches of coyote bushes, wondering about how the was going to get down again without falling on her ass. There was a bit where Catalina braced feet against the ground and offered Marina her hand to pull her up. Another spitting gust of rain, and Catalina turned, still holding Marina's hand, and said, "Well, here we are," as if she was expecting Marina to be let down by the view. For the first time Marina could see how they were following the razorback ridge. To one side, the land sloped away into a patchwork of meadow, woodland, and built-up areas. On the other side, there was town, and beyond it, the bay.
"It's beautiful," Marina said. And then, "A rainbow."
"Did you know there would be a rainbow?"
"No. I thought there might be one. But it's gorgeous up here anyway."
The wind seemed to be blowing the clouds away. The hillside brightened and the rainbow came clearer into focus as they stood there. The rainbow seemed to emerge from the slope below them and to arc over town and end at the point, just short of the water of the bay. Another bow bent over it, its colors reversed from the main one.
"I've never seen a double rainbow before," Marina said.
"Me neither. Why are we whispering?"
"Because it's awesome?"
Marina couldn't wait to get home and tell Sarai. No, she couldn't tell Sarai. She covered her face, rocking, sniffing as Catalina's arm came around her and pulled her close.
"I'm not going to say it's all right," Catalina said. "But I'm here."
Sarai isn't, Marina thought.
"Look," Catalina said. Marina looked up. Catalina pointed down the slope "In the middle. Is that a circle of rainbow? Is that a triple?"
Marina peered into the fuzzy center of the rainbow. It was brighter there, discontinuous with the emerald of the meadow and the deep green of the woodland behind it. Arcs of primary color began to resolve into a circle. "Yes," she breathed.
"What?" Catalina seemed to have forgotten that she had asked about the rainbow.
"It's a triple rainbow. I didn't even know that was possible."
"Maybe it isn't, and it's happening anyway."
Like my life, Marina thought. Impossible to live it, but she was living anyway.