Her father always told her she’d run wild one day.
He was an antiques dealer, owning a store in the little town they lived in. Clocks were his speciality; he could find whole lives and lost histories in those backs and springs, and would literally spend hours on hours...and minutes, and seconds, with those timepieces, pulling them apart and getting them to work. Barely scraped a profit, it was true, but no one in the Sattler household ever complained. His wife Janie was a public servant and pillar of the local government, strong-willed and compassionate, and happy to remain the stable element that would put her two children through good schools and give them the sort of rational temperament that included the free-rein to think and argue and see possibility where none previously existed. That, plus a healthy dose of scepticism. Ellie and big brother Sam came to recognize the differences between their parents, and knew even at a young age, in the same way that some cookies taste best with cola and some with milk, that there were particular things that only their father could say and do.
One, like the implicit understanding of time that only the two of them seemed to share, was counting out Ellie’s future.
At sixteen years and two months, she pressed down the last page of her Biology exam paper, snapped shut the cap of the pen in her ink smudged hand, and said goodbye to her final year of high school. It was 1986, and before her was the summer, lichen covered rocks and mountain air somewhere out in the Appalachians. Two months of looking for rare plants and ignoring the cavorting of her friends as they flipped burgers and sat in dugouts smoking pot.
Age, freedom and growing up besides, this was a botanical interest that Ellie didn’t share. Hers was a singular fascination; and it reached far, far back into the dark, mud-trapped depths of sixty million years.
“That’s his office. Don’t try looking for him there, though, he’s nearly always somewhere we can’t find him.” Her unofficial DU guide—he was either an Ed or a Fred, she couldn’t remember—glanced briefly over his shoulder. “You’re palaeobotany, right? Undergrad?” He hid a smile badly. “Yeah...you’ll probably get to your midterms before he even shakes your hand.”
Ellie turned quickly to get a better look as they strode past. Through frosted glass and the letters A. GRANT, PhD PALAEONTOLOGY she could see a desk buried beneath a small mountain of journals. She saw a coffee mug with a geranium growing out of it, an empty aquarium, a faded globe tacked with pins. And books. So many books...
“Not a fan of computers, then,” she remarked.
The guy—actually, his name might have been Ted—made a sound through his teeth, and opened the lab doors.
“You could say that.”
She would later learn that the tacks on the globe weren’t places he’d been, but a migration, imagined, of birds that never flew. In that moment, though, as she made her introductions and got a taste of the strange workings of Denver and life in the Rockies, and before she really knew him, Ellie thought, I guess he’s just slow to evolve.
She had always prided herself on looking ahead, of being ready for anything. But relationships sat squarely in a greyed corner of her personality; one that she guarded fiercely without quite knowing why.
It wasn’t until after she’d graduated that they began to notice one another. Her roommate, Sally, claimed forever and a day that she could place this occurrence to the date and time, and would laugh when Ellie feigned ignorance, her protests resembling the defence of a centuries old scientific proof.
He was almost fifteen years her senior; they were born a day apart in the month of July, and they both had similar stories to tell of birthdays spent in aching hot summers. He used his bathtub to house mud-crusted boots and kept a camp cooler in his kitchen because the refrigerator had been converted long ago into an incubator; and what was eating anyway, she wondered, what was living and paying tax and worrying about people when there was a whole, beautiful past, just sitting dormant, waiting to be found?
They were horribly, starkly suited. When she had this pointed out to her she would pretend to ignore it, but find herself smiling into the dark as she drove home. He was a grump from dawn to sundown. She made him coffee which he would forget, so she would fill a thermos with plain hot water, watch him take it every morning—and every evening bring it back empty. She loved in a way she couldn’t understand.
She loved him so much that it hurt.
What lasted, in the end, wasn’t this.
After the Nublar incident (a phrase drummed into her head by several different attorneys representing several different stakeholders, but apparently no one with actual memory of what happened, and a phrase she learned to truly hate), for near to an entire year, he was distant and distracted. Life continued as normal, teaching, collaborating, their world one still full of bones and rock and deep prehistory. Something jaded took hold of him; and Ellie began to feel as if she was stepping out to the edge, farther away from what had first brought them together, nearer to cynical bitterness, closer to estrangement.
She wondered if it was shared dreams, or nightmares. She knew he had them.
In the winter if 1995, Grant left for Ethiopia. There were no good plans sketched out for when he would return; his file at the University was marked as Leave of Absence, Extended; his secretary assigned to another department. Ellie let him go and soon after left herself for a dig in Germany. She didn’t think of it as a separation, but for the physical distance, and for nearly seven months she stayed convinced that it was needed, it would do them good.
That uncanny knack she had for being right about most things, and blindingly, achingly wrong about the rest; continents apart, they missed each other, they worked long, hard hours for minuscule reward, and when they returned home, they parted as friends.
Ellie named her son Charles. Charlie, after her father.
She saw the Hammond name one day, just a small article in the business section of the Washington Post. A woman, June Ellis-Hammond, had somewhat defied her male colleagues and been selected as chair of a company called NoneTech. Ellie scanned the paragraphs and closed the paper. She felt something deep in her chest, a tiredness that she felt didn’t deserve a place there. Because life was settling down, patterns were forming again, and she had no interest in looking back.
Running, wild or not, was the gift of others now.