Blair wandered through the Second Chance Commune, marveling at how much it had changed since he'd last seen it, when it had been the headquarters of the Sunrise Guardians and he'd been a prisoner of Garrett Kincaid. Sky-blue paint covered the previous olive-drab of the military buildings, and several sported colorful murals as well. He laughed out loud at the one decorating a barracks turned dormitory--it had children in bed dreaming of playing soccer and skipping rope. Peppered along the bottom were hand prints in finger paint of the children in the community.
He made his way out to the grounds. Outside the mess hall was an herb garden. In the farthest corner were healing herbs, like the sweet grass and sage which provided the many smudge sticks necessary for ritual cleansing. There was a large rosemary bush, displaying tiny blue flowers among its glossy needles. Closer in were the cooking herbs: thyme, parsley, marjoram, chervil, chives, oregano and at least a dozen others he didn't recognize. He smiled as he walked past basil plants, reaching down to pluck a leaf and crush it between his fingers, inhaling the pungent, slightly licorice-y fragrance that reminded him of the warm Mediterranean days he'd spent in Liguria as a child.
When the basil was at its peak, the villagers would gather to make pesto, a several-day affair. First, he and the other children would gather piles of pine cones from the nearby forest, pulling the scales apart to get to the precious pine nuts. Some women would harvest fresh garlic from the fields; others carried ceramic jars filled with the first crush of olive oil to the kitchen. Men would roll out great wheels of Parmigiana and Romano cheeses, aged at least a year, carving them into chunks and grating them with large rasps. When all was ready, the children would be sent out to gather arms full of basil plants, rinsing them at the well and stripping the leaves from the branches. Finally, everyone took turns pounding the ingredients in the large stone mortars and pestles, releasing the intoxicating perfume through the farmhouse. Finally, after much tasting to make sure it was just right, the sauce was put into jars and covered with a thick film of olive oil to prevent discoloration. The children were given chunks of large, crusty bread to sop up the remains left in the mortars. He'd never tasted anything as good. He wondered if Jim's sense of smell gave him any more pleasure than his own, without the memory to evoke it.
"Wool-gathering?" a soft voice startled him from his reverie.
He turned with delight. "Mom!" he exclaimed, moving into her waiting arms and kissing her cheek. "The basil reminded me of the summer at Serra Riccò." He looked around. "Everything looks great. So much different than when I saw it last."
Naomi linked arms and guided him out to the larger fields. "We're not growing all our own food yet, but we've made some good progress." She waved out toward the once-fallow fields that were currently planted with all manner of vegetables. She pointed to a farther field. "We've started growing our own grains. We've got rye, wheat and barley planted. We're also going to grow quinoa. Isn't it exciting? The only things we won't make ourselves are the oils." She sighed happily. "Oh, for those Ligurian olives!"
Blair laughed, happy to see his mother even more joyful than usual. Maybe she'll stay settled in one spot for a while. "So, how did you get so much accomplished? It's astonishing."
"Oh, sweetie, it's like the planets were aligned. I put out the word to our old commune friends and some of them were actually looking for a new opportunity like this. Ned and Janice came from Eugene and they brought their whole brood. You know their son is a botanist? He's the one who got so many of the seeds--heirlooms that might die out if we don't do something to propagate them. Sparky and Rainbow relocated, too. They were just sick of the insects and the heat, and those last two hurricanes sealed the deal. Not to mention all the Republicans! Florida used to be such a nice state, all those lovely Jewish retirees with their 'live and let live' attitude." She sighed. "Anyway, they caravanned here with about a dozen friends and family. Then, while I was filling out all that paperwork and such, a nice man from the State Prison Department asked if we'd provide some work experience for inmates who are not violent. Imagine, people whose only crime was getting caught selling a little marijuana or borrowing a car locked up for years, never seeing sunshine except one hour a day? So, of course I said yes."
Blair felt a twinge of alarm at this last turn of subject. After all, Kincaid was in one of these low-security facilities. "Mom, are you sure that these inmates are okay to be let out on their own? Where do they come from?"
Naomi waved off his concern. "They're not on their own, honey. There are two guards at all times and they stay for only a week at a time, then they go back to attend their rehabilitation programs. If they do well, they can come back again for another week for as often as they behave themselves and make progress. Despite the manual labor, most of them are very happy to be in the lovely fresh air. And the government pays us for their room and board, since they have to eat while they're here. It's how we were able to get the fields planted so quickly. They even helped set up a compost heap on the old tarmac. It couldn't be better."
Blair made a mental note to have Jim check out the program. His mother was always too eager to see the prison system as oppressors and prisoners as victims. While some of that was true, not nearly all of it. He put on a smile for his mom and changed the subject. "Mom, I came out here, of course, to see how things are going…"
"And to visit your mother, for which I'm delighted. But something else is on your mind."
"You know me so well." Blair smiled gently. " I want to talk about me and Jim and our future."
"Let's have some tea." She pulled him back to the kitchen area. She plugged in the electric kettle and rummaged around, trying to find just the right tea for the occasion. She warmed the pot with some hot water, then poured the tea over the herbs, steeping them for five minutes. She then poured two cups and pushed one in front of Blair.
He waited patiently while she performed the ritual, knowing she needed the time to center herself. Naomi had voiced her concerns about his association with Jim. While she didn't mind that he was a cop, per se, she was worried that his job would put Blair in danger. Of course, he had explained that the most dangerous thing that happened to him since meeting Jim was the takeover of the SGI and that Jim, in fact, had rescued him. He sighed inwardly. Sometimes his mother treated him more like a friend, popping in to see him whenever she was in the area, instead of making time to see him for holidays, as a normal parent would. Other times, especially when he was doing something she didn't agree with, she smothered him with parental affection (and authority). She'd given him life, raised him single-handedly and exposed him to the wider world through their travels together, for all of which he was truly grateful. He was tolerant of her foibles.
"So," she said, "What's going on with you and Jim?"
Blair could hear the tension in her voice as well as see it in her body language. She was preparing for bad news. "We're finalizing some legal issues and then we want to get married."
"Oh, sweetie, that's wonderful," Naomi exclaimed, getting up to give Blair a hug. She held on for long seconds and Blair could feel tremors.
"Mom, what is it?" He asked in alarm.
She broke the embrace and looked around, finding a clean dishtowel to dab her eyes. "It's nothing, sweetie. Okay, it's something. I thought you were going to tell me you two were breaking up. I'm so happy for you." She gave him another squeeze and sat down, taking a sip of tea.
Blair stared at her in surprise. "Why would you think that?"
"Well, you came in all serious and that's the only bad news I could think of. If Jim had been hurt, you would have called me right away."
Blair looked down at his cup. "I was afraid you'd object to the union. Because he's a cop."
"Oh, honey, of course I'd rather he was in another line of work. You know I worry all the time about how dangerous his job is, for him and now for you. But everything you've told me, the way you glow when you talk about him, the way your aura just gleams--well, of course Jim is your soul mate." She smiled at him. "Besides, I've had a long talk with Jim. I told him if he lets my baby get hurt, I'd forego my distaste for guns and shoot him myself."
"Just kidding," she said, patting his arm. "But I have had some nice chats with him and I'm at peace with his career choice."
Blair stared at her. "When did you have these 'nice chats' with Jim?"
"When he came out here. He wanted to make sure we had everything we needed. He gave me a list of Cascade resources and even one friend of his from the military who would act as advocate on our behalf if we had problems. He checked out the work release program and talked to the warden to make sure she understood who should and should not be assigned here. He even gave me his Home Depot card, although he says he prefers a local vendor for most of his hardware needs.
"Then we talked about you. About how you met and how sure he was that he didn't need or want a guide. How he never believed in the… I think he called it the mumbo jumbo of bonding. Until he met you. How he knew you loved him but insisted on taking things leisurely, making slow progress until he was sure he was ready for each next step. How his life has been enriched by knowing you, even if you never bonded or took the relationship beyond the contractual one. How happy he was the day you told him you wanted to bond and to make your life with him together permanent."
She smiled her most brilliant smile. "All in all, he's been the perfect son-in-law." She took a sip of tea and, realizing it was cold, put it aside, deciding to make a fresh pot. "Close your mouth, dear. You'll catch flies."
Blair shook himself, as if from a trance. "I can't believe it. He never said anything."
She shrugged. "Well, if we were going to become family, we needed to get some things straight. Besides, he wanted to ask for my blessing." She smiled again, more gently this time. "And he does, as you both do. I like him, honey. And, more importantly, I trust him. I trust him to take care of you and make you happy. I trust him to look out for you when you're with him on the job. I trust him when he says he'll stop taking chances with his life, the way he did before he met you. That he'll do his best to stay strong and healthy and alive, because he has more than himself to consider now. And that he knows you would be devastated if he died." She patted Blair's arm, seeing he was still a little shell-shocked. "So, was there anything else?" she asked sweetly.
Blair nodded. "I'd like to have the marriage ceremony here. Walking around, feeling the great vibes, I'm positive it's the right place."
"Oh, sweetie, that's wonderful. But I don't understand. Aren't you already bonded?"
"Yes, but bonding is different. Sometimes sentinels and guides bond but they don't have a personal relationship or sometimes it's a platonic relationship. In any case, bonding is something intensely personal and private. Marriage is open and public; we want to show our friends and family how we feel about each other and to give them an opportunity to share in our joy." He grinned. "It seemed appropriate to have it out here, since you're giving this place new life and purpose. We want to write our own vows, of course, but maybe Uncle Aaron can do a blessing--"
"And we could weave a chuppah out of willow branches," Naomi said, clapping her hands. "And Carmela can figure out the best dates astrologically, maybe do a Tarot reading--"
"And Robert can be my best man and Jim's brother Steven can be his--"
"Oh, let's talk to Carmela right away. We need to figure out what dates are best, so we know how much time we have to prepare." She looked at the tea and decided against making another pot. Instead she went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Champagne. "We need to start the celebration now," she said as she unwound the wire cage and popped the cork.
As Blair stared at the refrigerator, realizing it was the same one he'd shoved Kincaid into not so long before, he couldn't think of a better way to wash away the old and celebrate the new than with a glass of Moet.