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All Summer in an Afternoon

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Persephone and Callirhoe

The slopes of the little valley were thick with wildflowers, with cyclamen, with lilies, with bellflowers and anemones. There was thyme where the ground was dry, and watermint down by the stream, and always and everywhere the poppies, their petals gold and tawny and red beneath the sun.

Callirhoe's hair was gold and tawny as well, and her lips were red and just the least bit swollen with kisses. Her skin was golden and speckled with golden freckles, and Persephone's hands looked as white as the lily of the valley where they clutched Callirhoe's shoulders and pulled her up to be kissed again.

"I could kiss you all the day long," said Persephone. "Would you let me do that?"

"There's more to life than kisses, darling," said Callirhoe, with a grin like a vixen's.

"Oh, really?" Persephone leaned all her weight on the other girl, her black hair flowing over the sweet curves and the slender neck, and Callirhoe laughed and rolled them both over on the soft grasses, and pinned Persephone in turn. "There's this as well," said Callirhoe, and bit Persephone's milk-white shoulder, sucking greedily.

Persephone yelped, and tried to buck the other girl off. They wrestled, rolling and tumbling down the slope to the stream. "We're almost in the water!" cried Persephone, and Callirhoe laughed.

"What - is that a problem?"

"Not all of us are Okeanides!"

"A little water will refresh you, O Princess of Flowers." Callirhoe rose up from her friend's embrace and stepped into the shining stream instead, trading warm flesh for cool waters. The breeze flung her hair about, and the current flowed around her knees. Persephone licked her lips, feeling the places where Callirhoe had nipped them. She sat on the bank and and dabbled her toes in the cold flow. Callirhoe flicked a drop of water at her.

"Stop that!"

"You should wash."

"I don't need to." And it was so: a daughter of Zeus need never worry about becoming grubby or sweat-stained. Callirhoe made a rude noise and sat down in the water, so that her chin was just above the rippling surface and her hair floated and writhed with the current. She watched as Persephone stood and walked back up the slope, gathering poppies as she went, and then returned and began to weave them into a wreath.

"And who will wear that?" asked Callirhoe.

"I mean it for you."

"It would suit you more."

Persephone looked at Callirhoe's hair, darkened now with water, and frowned. Callirhoe rose out of the stream, scattering droplets that flared in the sun like crystals, and ran up the slope herself. She returned a moment later with an armful of lilies of the valley. They sat together, weaving the fresh green stems, content and busy. Soon the snowy lilies circled Callirhoe's golden head and the yellow and red poppies shone against Persephone's midnight hair.

"Do you hear that?" said Callirhoe, suddenly.

Persephone lifted her head. "I hear your sister Galaxaure. And is that Ianthe?"

"So it is - and I think I hear Pallas herself. Should we go and join them?"

"Whatever you like, sweetness."

They draped each other in the gowns they had discarded earlier and walked arm in arm over the poppy-clad shoulder of the hill. There before them was a lovely site: more than a score of the daughters of Olympus and the nymphs of earth and wood and stream, gathering flowers, singing, dancing, and playing ball. A joyous shout greeted the appearance of the two friends, and the goddess Artemis came forth to greet them.

"Well met, my garlanded maidens ... for I see you are maidens yet!" The virgin goddess looked at them sharply, then smiled and held out her hands. Callirhoe took the left, and Persephone the right, and they skipped and danced to meet the others.

This slope was blanketed with crocus, and a little spring bubbled out of the rock, and close by grew a cluster of the most beautiful narcissus that Persephone had ever seen. Leaving Callirhoe to greet her sisters, Persephone walked over the where the sweet waters bubbled out from the rock. The flowers were large and golden, and one amongst them, the tallest of all, seemed to glow with the same warm shade as Callirhoe's hair.

The breeze died, and the voices of the playful goddesses and nymphs seemed faint and far away. Persephone knelt among the golden blossoms and reached out to pluck the tallest one.

Images from the Caryatid Project.