December 19, 2012 by Vee Villarreal
Still groggy from the early morning hour, Summer wandered the grounds; just her, a book of poetry, and a cup of fresh coffee. The morning air was crisp and humid, but not the suffocating blanket of moisture she’d grown accustomed to since their arrival. The days had begun to grow just a bit cooler, but they were still comfortable enough for her to venture outside before class in just her jeans and a light sweater. She settled herself on a stone bench behind the garden shed and opened the book to a beautiful and melancholic poem about a winter storm at sea. The lawn around her was blissfully quiet and vacant. She enjoyed the serene settings as she perused the pages and took sips of piping hot and fragrant coffee; a little cream and a lot of honey, never sugar, and just a dash of cinnamon, the way she liked it. A tall, scraggly-looking bush growing beside the bench gave off a pungent odor that intertwined with the scent of her morning light roast. A spicy, sweet smell that was odd coming off a plant.
A playful whinny pulled her from the words upon their dusty pages and glancing up she was caught by a surprising and charming scene. Across the yard a chestnut mare was running in the large fenced paddock; her ruddy mane flowing like a brilliant flag behind her as she galloped past the splintered posts. In the center of the small yard stood Kopi, the horse circled him as he reached out to run his hand along her flank. The mare slowed to a trot and walked directly toward him stopping to nuzzle his broad chest affectionately. Kopi, normally so stoic and forceful, embraced the beast, resting his head between her flickering ears and she could almost see the ghost of a smile on his lips. She felt as though she were intruding as she watched such an intimate and unguarded display of tenderness. Closing the cover of her book, she turned her back on the two of them; disappointed that her morning retreat was cut short, but eager to give the hulking brute his privacy, she could only imagine the tantrum he might throw if he discovered her watching him with his guard down.
On her way back to the house, she hoped to still be able to salvage the beginning of her day by stowing herself away in her room to read before she had to get ready for her first class. The road that lead through the gates and past the estate into town was encased in a dust cloud as a small, white pickup truck made its way to their gate house. She paused in front of the porch to greet whoever might be visiting them barely after dawn. The soldiers on post stopped the truck momentarily before waving the driver through and Summer set down her book and mug on the stairs, edging toward the driveway. The truck stopped and its engine knocked loudly as it shut off. The door opened with a shrill squeak and a pair of costly and well-oiled leather boots appeared below it. As the door swung closed she followed the boots up over the lines of a pair of pressed blue jeans and weathered, but dashing leather jacket to an impressive jawline that matched the defined cheek bones and long, straight nose of a familiar face. She should have known by those ridiculously impractical boots who it was immediately, but she cut herself a little slack since she hadn’t finished her coffee just yet. Jaxon Pate approached her with the smooth confidence of a man raised with privilege and something her parents’ benefactors called ‘good breeding.’ Not good enough to allow him to ascend to the ranks of the genetically-pure and unimaginably rich, but he had achieved the later at least. She’d expected to see him more after they’d parted ways on the ship, but here it was nearly four months and she was just now setting eyes on him again.
“Summer, it’s lovely to see you again.”
“Good morning, Jaxon. You’re out awfully early.”
“I could say the same for you. I was hoping to catch you before you had to begin your teaching.” He smiled and moved toward her, clearing the remained space between them with fluid strides. She could feel her face flush as he posed in front of her, confident and dashing.
“I need to speak to your father about some incoming business propositions, but since I’ve already got you out here all to myself.” He cupped her chin delicately in his fingers. “I was wondering if you would allow me the pleasure of taking you out on a date.”
“Yes.” Summer practically barked the answer at him. She didn’t intend to sound so desperate, but Jaxon was very attractive and the closest thing to an eligible bachelor she was going to find out here. Plus, she’d been hoping he’d ask since two nights into their cruise to the Pacific.
Jaxon leaned in and planted a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Excellent. I will be back to pick you up later then, say around mid-afternoon?”
“Today?” She was surprised and she stopped herself to think of whether she was free or not this afternoon. She couldn’t recall any plans after her classes ended in the morning. “Alright, I suppose that’s fine. Why the rush though?”
“Oh no rush, I just had the perfect place in mind and I want to take you there before the rains set in.” His smile was so warm and pleasant, she felt as though she were melting into a girlish puddle each time he flashed it.
He left her by the porch to collect her wits again. It was getting late; she needed to hurry up and get ready for class to start. Gathering her belonging from the porch ledge she climbed the three short steps to the door made her way up to her room to finish prepping. She could hear the faint murmurings of Jaxon and her father coming from the library as she passed, but couldn’t make out what they were saying.
The morning classes passed in a flurry. Her students were new to classrooms and traditional education, but they were eager to learn and bright, which made the experience more enjoyable for everyone. She taught science and math mostly and spent a lot of the class time focusing on hands-on projects, because her students seemed to respond best to that. Her thoughts were distant and unfocused as she daydreamed about her meeting later with Jaxon. She’d waited so long for him to ask her out and now he finally had. When she finished for the day Summer returned to her room to dress and freshen up. She didn’t pick out anything too complicated, not that that was her style, but Jaxon hadn’t mentioned what they would be doing so she decided it was best to keep her outfit simple, but flattering. She had a dusty rose colored pullover that hugged her shoulders and was fitted enough to show off her figure, which she paired with a pair of her newer jeans and some light walking boots. When Jaxon arrived to pick her up he seemed pleased enough with her choice and even complemented her prophetic planning as her outfit apparently matched his plans for their date well.
Other than the cryptic comment about her boots and jeans though he was eerily silent about the agenda for their date. They took off in his truck down the sandy road and she couldn’t seem to press any details from him, which left him with a cheeky grin on his face at her frustration. In the back seat there was a large wicker basket with a folding lid. Maybe he was planning a picnic, she thought to herself, which would be very romantic especially as the sun set. Summer bit her lip gently as she considered all the possibilities.
The truck pulled to a slow stop near a tight grouping of tall trees. Jaxon exited and walked around to her side of the vehicle opening the door for her and offering her his hand as though they were about to go out for a five star night on the town, instead of a hike or woodland picnic. He grabbed the basket from the back and led her down a small dirt path through the trees. The path laced gracefully through the bulky trunks and the undergrowth was a vivid green living carpet. It was lovely and Summer held back a bit to take it all in. Jaxon allowed her to slow their descent, but urged her on until they reached a clearing. At least she thought it was a clearing until they passed between the last two trunks and she found herself standing on the edge of a small canyon. From the mesa she could see the edge all around, the shape was almost too circular to be a natural formation, and there were obvious foot paths cut into the sides of the steep red clay walls. A lush forest sprouted from all surfaces in a kaleidoscope of greens and yellows, with blooms in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was like the incredibly rich and fertile growth you see after a fire or volcanic eruption. The pacific was rife with volcanic activity, perhaps this was the caldera of dormant volcano. Jaxon laid out a large blanket over the ground and reached for her hand to pull her down on to it as he sat cross legged on the plaid surface.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” He asked her, gesturing to the little valley. It wasn’t very deep, maybe ten or 12 feet to the bottom from the ledge, but it was fairly wide across, maybe the size of two or three football fields.
“Yes, very. Is it an old volcano?”
Jaxon smiled widely and shook his head as though she’d said something amusing. “No, no it’s a crater of sorts.”
That wasn’t really a satisfactory answer and being curious in nature, what Harding wasn’t, she probed further. “A crater? Like a meteorite?”
“No. There was an explosion and fire here, a big one, maybe ten years back. It’s all a bit mysterious really.”
“Wow. Why haven’t I heard anything about it in the reports? You’d think something like that would have made the military records.” She scanned the crater again, focusing in on the basin; she could just make out the outline of a ruined structure.
“Well, I suppose that’s because there wasn’t any military to speak of here then, it wasn’t until after that time that Globalnetics set up a presence in this zone. “
“Whatever happened, it sure makes for a gorgeous sight now.” Summer kept shifting back to get a better look at a particularly lovely shrub growing near their picnic site, its blossoms were a deep, velvety purple. The richness of lush vegetation was simply breathtaking.
“Yes, it does.” Jaxon’s tone had changed in his response, his voice deeper and more intimate, enough to make her turn to look at him. He sat on the blanket, his suit jacket removed and folded carefully beside him. He was watching her with half lidded eyes that seemed hopeful and seductive. Her cheeks felt hot as she realized he wasn’t talking about the scenery.
“Aren’t you the charmer?” Summer settled herself on the blanket, ignoring their impressive surroundings to give Jaxon her full attention. “So what’s in the basket?”
Jaxon smirked knowingly as he pulled open one flap and reached his hand inside. “For starters, we have a bottle of wine. I hope you like prosecco. Then I packed some cheese and crackers and a pasta salad.” As he listed the contents he pulled each item out and placed it between them. “Finally, I thought we’d finish with a chocolate torte.” He pulled out a generous slice of rich-looking cake wrapped in a linen napkin and her mouth practically started salivating at the sight.
“That sounds amazing.” Jaxon handed her a fluted glass full of sparkling wine and she took the first sip, letting the bubbles dance against her tongue. They made light conversation as they ate. Everything tasted as good as it looked, reminding her of what she was missing back in Chicago. Jaxon had to have had all of it shipped in special from a gourmet market there; nothing like this existed in the Pacific. She had to admit that her heart skipped a beat for a second when they came to dessert. Summer had a sweet tooth that took a lot of will to overcome, and such a sumptuous treat as this one presented an irresistible challenge. The first bite was an explosion of flavor, overwhelmingly sweet with a bitter finish and a delicious, buttery texture. She was grateful that Jaxon had packed such a big slice so that she didn’t look like such a glutton as she dug in.
“How are you enjoying your time in the Pacific?” He asked congenially as they finished their meal and sat back to enjoy a second glass of sweet wine.
“It’s fine,” she paused, “a little quiet.”
Jaxon laughed. “You mean you’re bored out of your skull.”
Summer nearly spat out the swallow of wine she’d taken. “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”
“Maybe it’ll be a little more exciting now.”
“Why is that?”
“Because now we have each other for company.” Jaxon’s hand reached to caress her lower back as he leaned toward her.
“That’s true,” she breathed out softly as she turned to meet his approach. Gently he pulled her closer and kissed her. His lips were soft and warm and he kissed with an experienced ease. After polishing off the wine it was time to leave as the sun began to set and the woods darkened. On the drive back Summer felt more comfortable and shared the bucket seat beside him in the truck instead of the one near the window. After an amorous kiss goodnight in the cab of the truck and another on the porch as she headed back into the house.