July brings heat, and worse, humidity – a cloying dampness that settles over everything, makes the air heavy, adds weight to every breath. "It's the goddamn corn," Rodney mutters at breakfast as if he's offering up state secrets, as if he's making John privy to something above his security clearance. "It sweats."
John shrugs and spoons up a mouthful of Cheerios, catches Finn about to investigate the properties of breakfast cereal up his sister's nose and quells him with a look, says to Rodney, "Eh. You know."
"Eh?" Rodney splutters, picking up Merrie's spoon as she drops it for the sixteenth time that morning – he licks it and gives it back to her. "Eh is your contribution to this conversation? Eh is your scintillating commentary on the moisture-producing properties of a plant being thrust into the soil and coaxed into maturity by craven fools who haven't given a thought to the nitrogen-laced consequences of over-fertilization, or the biological ramifications of monocultures for the future of our planet, not to mention erosion, and did I mention the sweat?"
John nods solemnly. They've had this conversation every day for about two weeks, and they had it every day last summer, and he's pretty sure they had it every day the summer before that.
"Well, I've had enough," Rodney says suddenly, squaring his shoulders and tilting his chin.
Finn belches like a trucker and grins so happily about it that his eyes squint up until they disappear. "Winner," he says, and goes back to eating.
"I –" Rodney continues, pausing only to pick up Merrie's spoon again, to lick it and return it to her, "am going on the offensive. I refuse to be reduced to sub-prime operation by the machinations of hostile weather fronts for one moment longer." He breathes out hard. "I'll be in the basement."
"Baff?" Finn asks after Rodney clatters downstairs. "Is Dad going bananas again?"
John considers the question for a moment. "Hard to say," he offers at last, picking up his cereal bowl and cradling it in his hand. "But while he's gone . . ."
Finn cackles and picks up his bowl, too. "MILKS," he crows, and eagerly tips up his bowl, guzzling the contents.
John doesn't crow out loud, but he's doing it in his head.
The key to Rodney's meteorological resistance movement turns out to be a souping-up of the a/c system. By the time John gets back from dropping Merrie at daycare and Finn at summer camp – scheduled activity, canoeing; unscheduled but likely byproduct, anarchy – there's mechanical detritus all over the porch, an oily smear on the kitchen floor, and a suspicious whirring coming from the basement.
"I'm gonna go fix the fence between our pasture and Ada's," John yells down the basement stairs.
"What do you mean a motor, I don't have a motor," Rodney yells back. "You are ridiculous."
"Okay!" John shouts, and picks up the cooler with its store of water bottles, figures he'll be able to see if the farm bursts into flames, and starts mentally compiling a grocery list as he heads to the truck.
It's hot, thankless work, wrestling fence posts into submission, spinning out wire and twisting it tight. Out beyond the creek it's beautiful in a way John doesn't get to see every day, the land rising up toward the oak tree that got hit the storm before last. The grass is turning a dry, crisp gold, the ditch lilies burning their own orange flame, corn and soy beans washing green and young across four different properties, the sky a clear blue. But it's hard, in this heat, to soak up beauty when sweat has the edge, when the sun beats slow and there's no hint of wind. John does what he has to and there's no finesse about it – just wire-lines and pliers, a shovel and his own gathered strength – and he heads back before eleven, pulls off his t-shirt and mops his face, rubs at the sodden hair at the nape of his neck.
"I need gaskets," Rodney says as they pass on the porch stairs. He has his car keys in his hand and a smudge of oil on his forehead. "Gaskets, and probably a dimmer switch, I think I can wire things so that – do we have any screws?"
John eyes him fondly. "Couple," he admits.
"Okay, gasket and dimmer switch, I'll be back!" Rodney says, waving a hand as he trots to his car, and then he's backing up and executing a turn, heading up the lane, turning toward Iowa City and speeding away.
John looks in both directions, like a surprise attack might come from the field behind the house, wipes a hand across his mouth to hide what's probably an unhealthily dopey smile, and heads inside to poke at what Rodney left behind.
It takes Rodney three hours to get what he needs and come back again, but he brings sandwiches and the Des Moines Register, so John's an easy sell. The sandwich is all things good about the world, especially because John didn't have to make it, and it provides an excuse to sit in the kitchen and listen in while Rodney swears in three or four languages at the plumbing, the gods, and his alleged genetic predisposition toward dropping screwdrivers on the basement floor.
"I'm going to fetch our daughter!" John yells at half past three.
"You can't prove anything!" Rodney shouts back, and John's mind whirls for a second, then rights itself. He has pictures. He could prove a hell of a lot.
Merrie's fresh up from a nap and moderately possessed when John picks her up – babbles happily the whole way home, filling John in on all the day's news in a language that's only fifty percent comprehensible. It doesn't stop John from making noises of agreement or asking questions when she pauses for a breath. "So you went with sweet potatoes, huh?"
"TAY-ters," Merrie offers, and throws her arms wide.
John nods, making his impressed face at the rearview mirror. "I agree. Completely," he says. Merrie beams at him, and he grins right back.
Rodney's car's disappeared when they get back to the farm, and John checks his phone before he unbuckles his daughter – no one's called; he didn't miss a text. Inside, things are ominously quiet. The basement door's wide open, and the thermostat's in pieces on the counter beside the sink. John hitches Merrie a little higher on his hip, ducks his head into the living room, quirks an eyebrow at the dimmer switch hanging by a wire from the wall. "Think daddy got things running?" he asks Merrie.
"Daddy 'mart," she offers, slapping his shoulder with one hand.
"That he is," John agrees, and crosses to the dimmer switch, tilts his head before he slides the switch half way. The blast of cold that rockets out of the air vent is enough to make him stagger a little. "Jesus, Rodney," he mutters, listening to the clank of the air ducts around the house. "Now who's tempting environmental disaster, huh?"
Merrie leans away from him, toward the air, wriggling the fingers of both hands.
"Yeah, it's cold, feels good, huh?" John says, wincing as something clatters upstairs – probably the bed collapsing in a gale force wind.
"Fly," Merrie says, leaning further. "Fly, fly, fly."
"It's not a – hey, buddy, would you – " Merrie's wriggling so hard he's close to dropping her. "Let me turn off the – no? Okay." His daughter's stubborn mind-set isn't a new development, and sometimes it's better to give in than get his shoulder dislocated by her full-body flailing. John eases her to the floor, lets her grab his fingers to steady herself.
"FLYYYYYY," she shrieks, leaning directly into the air-flow, and John laughs a little, understanding now, feeling a strange burst of pride at having such a smart, reckless kid. He eases his fingers out of her hands and still she stands, held up by the air-conditioning, probably getting frostbite, but laughing uncontrollably at the rush of the air.
"What the hell are you doing!!" Rodney asks, a whirl of color and motion, swooping in from the kitchen – he grabs Merrie before he slams the dimmer back to zero and the whole house shudders and clatters to a rest. "It isn't finished, what are you – our daughter was – I leave the house for ten minutes and . . . I don't even know what that was! What were you thinking?"
John's saved from answering by Merrie, who cups Rodney's face between her two small hands and kisses him wetly on the nose. "Daddy make fly," she grins, and then hides her face against Rodney's shoulder.
"Oh," Rodney says, pinking up gently.
John's gotta hand it to her – their daughter's a pro.
By the time Finn's dropped off from day camp and hoses himself off – literally; the garden hose has never seen so much action before, but considering the algae and leaf mold and bug guts the kid smears across his body on a daily basis, it's a necessary defense against gunk on the toilet seat and grime on the walls, and it means there's a passing chance of getting the bathtub clean after a second round of scrubbing his ears – Rodney's mostly done. They eat dinner outside, Merrie perched happily on a blanket, eating her hotdog and rubbing ketchup into her hair, giggling at Finn as he pulls faces between every bit of his burger. John's fingers get sticky from fresh, buttered corn, and Rodney eats so many pickles that John's forced to ask if there's something he should know.
"For a man who knows about alien life forms," Rodney says, sniffing dismissively, "you should know better than to joke."
Which just makes John laugh, and sets Finn off in mimickry, and pretty soon Merrie's yelling "HAR. HAR!!" until Rodney gives in, too.
The house, when they spill back inside, is quiet and cool, and John kisses Rodney's cheek as they stack dishes in the sink. He kisses him again when the kids are in bed, when he discovers their own room's ten degrees cooler than it's ever been in summer, when he pulls out the duvet and throws it over the bed.
"You," he says, burrowing in beside Rodney, teeth mint-clean, body singing gladly to be finally, beautifully prone, "are a genius." He presses his nose against Rodney's arm, relishing the forgotten satisfaction of soaking up Rodney's body heat.
"And it's perfectly sustainable," Rodney offers, as if John had asked. "With some tweaks in the intake system and a secondary cooling mechanism that – well, I'm not sure I should tell you exactly how I'm . . . plausible deniability is probably best, but should the Air Force ask you questions about . . . never mind, moving on, it's good, isn't it?" And he turns his head, beams at John.
"It's inspired," John agrees, shifting to slide a leg between Rodney's calves, pushing himself up on one elbow, touching Rodney's face. "And you taught our daughter how to fly."
Rodney grimaces. "A whole family of people who think throwing themselves into the ether is a good thing."
"That's right," John says. "A whole family."
Rodney smiles and shifts his shoulders against the mattress. "Point," he says at last, and lifts his head to meet John in a slow, sweet kiss.