To Eseme’s Request. After all of the Tattercoats stuff.
As the rain was coming down in torrents most often reserved for biblical events, Autumn had decided on staying in for a night, not in a motel — the town wasn’t big enough or on a major enough route for that — but in a bed-and-breakfast that didn’t seem too full of itself. She was sitting in its common room — which still looked much like a family living room of 100 years ago — drawing a fantasy scene of the same room when the door swung open.
He looked drenched, drowned-rat incarnate, his jeans holding out from his legs like they were their own creatures. He walked like his feet had moved past sore and on to misery a few hours ago.
And he looked familiar. “Edmonton!” She wrinkled her brow. “Wait, not just Edmonton, either.”
He stood on the tile of the foyer, dripping. “How did you get her so fast? And so dry?”
“Umbrella and a raincoat, and a trucker bound for Johnson City, Tennessee. You were in Lancaster, too. The fair. You bought one of my originals and three prints, and —” how had she missed him in Edmonston? “-we talked about old music and American authors. You liked London.”
“You liked Irving.”
“I did! What were you doing in Edmonton?”
“Well, you were doing that show in their coffee shop. With the watercolor artist who did those strange fusion works?”
“Madeleine Magdalene, yeah. But that doesn’t explain what you were doing there.”
“But I suppose it does. I-” He looked down at himself ruefully. “I should change.”
“Is anything in your bag dry, either?”
“Well, it’s supposed to be waterproof-”
“So probably not. Sarah?” She tilted her head at the woman running this place, who had been politely ignoring Autumn’s would-be guest. “Do you have a room for my friend here?”
“Wellll- I suppose I do. Night like this, I’m unlikely to get too many people, so I can give him the same discount I gave you, minus the art, how’s that?”
“That’s quite nice, thank you.” One of the charms her sister Summer had drawn on her made travel easier. It wouldn’t make anyone do anything that would hurt them, but a discount where it could be afforded was just fine. “Hey, why don’t you go get that giant robe they have in all the rooms, and maybe Sarah can let you make use of her dryer. Then we can talk?”
“That – that sounds altogether reasonable,” he admitted. “Sarah, ma’am, I am in your hands.”
Half an hour later, he was sitting next to Autumn, wearing a robe so fluffy it ought to offend PETA, watching her as she added color to her drawing. “You really hitchhiked? Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Not if you’re really good at picking rides and are willing to put three inches of steel into anyone who causes you too much trouble.”
Not if you sister had drawn charms on you against certain kinds of predators, charms so strong that they had gotten one serial offended caught – because he had veered into the ditch on the other side of the road and the police had found trophies in his wrecked trunk.
But Autumn didn’t share that sort of thing. She smiled crookedly instead, and hoped he’d leave it there.
“And how do you walk so much without – urgh. our feet hurting?”
“How did you find me?” she countered.
“Well, it’s on your blog. I mean, this wasn’t. This was a lucky chance. But you were heading from Edmonston and heading for Clarenceville, and since I know you avoid the major highways – that’s on your blog, too – that left, well, this or 17, and 17 is a mess this time of year. Then it started pouring, and I thought, well, I guess I’ll blow a little money and spend the night somewhere not pouring before I get all wet again.”
Autumn dipped her finger idly in the condensation on the outside of her glass and drew a couple runes on her arm. The brief flash of sight the “ink” gave her showed a bright, if tenuous line between her and this stranger. Clearly not entirely a stranger, then, or, at least, he felt much more connection to her than a stranger would.
“Well, since you found the one place with an open sign in this town, I suppose that fate only had some small part to play.” She smiled warmly at him. “Now that you’ve followed me through half of the postman’s creed, hello, I’m Autumn.”
“And I’m Calvin.” He leaned forward and offered her his hand. It was a big hand, with callouses on the palm and short-cut nails. She shook it, feeling his grip and all the things he didn’t say and didn’t do – not squeezing, no limpness, no caution, no lingering contact. “And, ah, I suppose I was following you.” It seemed like it had just occurred to him.
Autumn managed not to laugh at him, although the giggle threatened to pour out of her. “I suppose you were, yes. And now?”
“Well, I found you. And I thought maybe you could show me – tomorrow – how you walk all that distance without bleeding feet.”
“Not tomorrow. For one, it’s going to be pouring tomorrow. For another, you need to give your feet at least a day to rest.”
“But you’ve got that thing in Clarenceville in two days,” he protested.
“You know, there’s thing thing called busses. And it just so happens one runs tomorrow evening from here to Clarenceville. And you and I are going to be on it. That is – if you have that much time?”
“I managed to take off a week. It took some doing, but I managed.” his smile was lopsided and self-deprecating. “I’ll have to stop following you around eventually – but not tomorrow.”
“That’s…” She searched for words that weren’t crazy or nuts or just wow. “You took off a week? To follow me around?”
“Okay, it does sound pretty creepy when you put it like that.” He sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
No, no. Autumn leaned forward. “It might sound creepy to some people,” she allowed, “but I’m the sort of person who walks across the country selling art out of a back-pack. So it sounds sort of sweet. I just – I really want to know why?”
“Well. Uh. I was talking to you, and I liked that. And then I read your blog, and I liked that.” He looked away, flushing a little bit. “And then I thought, well, I can go see her again, and I did. And then it was just — well, you walk everywhere, or at least you walk places, and I wondered what that was like. Turns out it’s painful.” He looked down at his feet ruefully. “But also, until the rain, it was really nice. Even during the rain, it was pretty nice. You get to see the world in a totally different way.” He looked back at her, hazel eyes intense. “It’s like I’m seeing everything just a little differently, since I met you.”
“Clarenceville.” She wasn’t sure what she had decided, but she’d decided something. “In Clarenceville, I’m going to show you how to walk properly. And if you like that, if you do — well, maybe we can talk then about what happens next.” She leaned back in her chair, the world feeling right for the first time in a while. “For now — for now, enjoy a nice warm drink and take a load off your feet. Relax, enjoy, and tell me all about your walk.”