Friends and Allies

Chose the winning design for the cover of my next novel:  The Saga of Nichole 5:  Part 1 – Friend & Ally.  It still needs a little tweaking, so I shan’t roll it out quite yet.

In other news, I’m also getting back into the habit of writing.  I have to:  if I am about to publish a book called ‘Part 1’ I tanjed well better have a ‘Part 2’ lined up on deck and ready for launch.  Of course, I don’t.  Quite.

I hand-wrote about two pages of notes yesterday.  That’s something for a pantser such as myself.  Still, with all the RealWorld things I had to do about the house today, at least I was able to lay down a few words for Act I.

The following Sunday saw Nichole back at her friend Nancy’s house. What had begun as a courtesy call after the unexpected engagement at The Dallas Dam – to thank her for her son John who’d found her body in the rubble – quickly turned into an odd friendship. The machine that was less than a year old was completely taken by Mrs. Brunelli, the oldest human she’d ever known.

“Hello?” she called politely, knowing no one was at home. Around ten in the morning, Nichole knew Nancy was either at, or returning from, Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. The seventy year old woman would normally walk the few miles to and from by herself, but the fresh horse manure out front of the house indicated that her son John was home on leave from the Cavalry.

Nichole had brought both eggs and some ham. A quick rummage in Nancy’s pantry yielded onions and block of hard cheese. She was grating that when she heard the whinny of a horse followed by front door banging open.

“Nichole!” she heard John yell as he burst into the house. She quickly dropped what she was holding and turned about with a smile. For all his two hundred and twenty pounds, she knew he was surprisingly lithe on his feet.

“Nichole!” he yelled again coming into the kitchen and picking her up in a great hug. Her head just bounced off the ceiling as she hugged his back with the same intensity.

“God, it’s great to see you again!” he shouted, setting her back onto her feet but not letting go of her waist. “Hey! Your hair’s different! Twin-tails! Cute! You still dating that loser at PSU?”

Subtle he was not.

“Johnny!” A dangerous voice from behind him. Nichole smiled to see his six foot two frame shrink.

“Sorry, mother!”

“Now you hie yourself out of here! The kitchen is no place for a man! Go on!”

“Yes, mother.”

Nichole watched as he left without a word, smiling even more.

“You’re amazing, Nancy!”

“Me? Don’t be silly dear, I’m just a mother! Let me see what you are making… omelets?”

“Yes! Is that all right?”

“Of course! Here, you go back to the cheese and I’ll cut up the onions!”

“Thank you!”

They worked in silence but Nichole was aware Nancy’s eyes were on her.

“Yes, friend Nancy?”

She laughed.

“How did it go, when you left in such a hurry last week?”

Nichole couldn’t help herself: he pirouetted in place on her left toe and brought her hands up to either side of her face.

“I made him so happy! It was amazing!”

The old woman chuckled soundlessly and returned to the onions.

“Good for you! Too bad for Johnny, though!”

She glanced left at Nichole out of the corner of her eye.

“You won’t forget to invite me to the wedding, will you?”

“Wedd…”

Nichole froze. Even her subroutine to fake breathing went into abeyance. From somewhere far away she heard a voice.

“…chole! Nichole! Are you all right?!”

She blinked. Nancy was holding her hands and John was in the door, his face contorted in concern. She considered her internal clock.

I was gone for almost a minute. Was I so shocked by what she said? Why?

“Fine. I’m fine!” Her smile returned with a little tilt of her head. “You… startled me. That’s all!”

“Uh huh.” Nancy said with a long look. She reached for some eggs and started cracking them into a bowl.

“Bless us, oh Lord, and these, thy gifts…”

Nichole sat still as her two friends prayed before their breakfast. John was incurious and she’d had it out with Nancy some weeks ago that while of no particular faith, she did understand that there was something beyond her understanding.

She watched, happy, as they both consumed the food that she had made and Nancy had helped to make. Her standard excuse of ‘I ate this morning,’ while technically true, was accepted by them both.

Nichole was much more interested in following up on what John had said before his mother yelled at him to not talk with food in his mouth. She treated him as if he was less than half his twenty eight years.

“You were saying, John, about envoys from the Mayor’s office going upriver?” she asked.

“Mmm!” He swallowed. “My team has escorted one group of ‘em, three guys; one White and two Mulattos, past The Dallas. To talk to what’s left of the Huns, I guess.”

Huns. Shorthand for the horsemen barbarians that seemingly controlled the land from just outside Portland’s jurisdiction to what had been Boise, Idaho. Since Nichole’s arrival they’d suffered one minor and one major defeat.

“But you’ve heard…?” she prompted.

He had almost shoveled more of his omlette into his mouth, but paused.

“I’ve seen two other groups go out and heard about a few others…”

He looked around as if seeing threats in the shadows.

“One of them, Checkists,” he whispered, “had wagons with crates. Rumor is they were gold and silver!”

He shoved the food into his mouth.

Nichole considered. One: where would Johnson have come up with that much specie? Two: why pass it onto the barbarians? They’d beat them twice in less than a year, so tribute was unnecessary… a bribe? For what?

“Breakfast was lovely, Nichole!” Nancy said, pushing her chair back before standing. “I won’t say ‘you’ll make a wonderful wife’ as that idea seems to vex you!”

“Huh!? What are you talking about, mother?!” John completely missed Nichole’s eyes fixed on the tabletop. “She’s the perfect wife! If that militia puke would – ”

“Johnny!”

Again, he shrank into himself and busied himself with finishing breakfast.

“Excuse me, please.”

Nichole stood and went out front to sit in one of the chairs on Nancy’s front deck. When the wind blew the trees just so she could catch a glimpse of the Willamette River.

The river that flows into the Columbia that empties into the Pacific. Across which is… my home.

Why is it, when I have so many friends, have made allies, and have Gil as my lover… I am… what to call this feeling?

Nancy came out with a mug of chicory coffee. What few imported coffee there was went to the wealthy and well-connected. She took the rocking chair next to Nichole.

“Homesick?”

How did you know that?!

“I have been in your land for nearly eight months. But…” she trailed off.

Nancy blew at the top of her mug. She looked up as a light patter of rain began.

“Later, I’ll be sewing another chevron onto Johnny’s uniform,” she began.

“Really?! He told me nothing of a promotion! Sergeant?”

Nancy had another silent laugh.

“I’ve always known he’d be a great non-com… I guess we Italians should call him a centurion? But with so little self-discipline, it’s been a huge struggle for him. He’s been Private to Corporal and back and back more times than I can count!”

She took a drink and looked left at Nichole.

“He’s changed in the last few months; since The Dallas.” Another drink. “He’s not womanizing and he’s not shirking his duties. Any idea why that might be?”

She leaned back into her chair and slowly rocked it back and forth.

Nichole considered her words.

“John once said something very sweet to me… about how much I was a reflexion of his mother. And how he wished that he could make me his.” Nichole let her eyes close at the memory. “Gil and I… we were very young in love… perhaps…”

*schlurrp*

Nancy pulled on her coffee.

“I’m flattered. But stop there.” She seemed to blinking. “If my head-strong Johnny has finally been dragged kicking and screaming into the adult world…well…”

She looked to Nichole and smiled.

“I thank you, for that!”

Nichole nodded, saying nothing.

In the ten minutes it took Nancy to finish her ersatz coffee neither spoke. Neither needed to.

Nancy stood, followed by Nichole.

“I’ll be running home now.” Nichole announced.

There was a look in her friend’s eye. She paused.

“Yes?” Nichole asked.

“What Johnny said… about these couriers…”

Nichole understood full well the wisdom behind her aged friend’s comment.

“I’ll find out.”

She turned, about to run. A tug at her silver jacket.

“Discretely.”

A nod. She was gone.

“Hey! Nichole!” came her son’s shout from in the house.

“She’s gone, Johnny. A teacher at college has many responsibilities!”

She watched her youngest son’s face fall.

“Come on! Your mare in the carport needs a good brushing! Let’s get to it!”

“Yeah! You’re the greatest, Ma!”

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