Art Is Life

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She tries to focus now as she washes the day’s grime from her face and arms. It’s a little tricky, but better than a full shower under a cold spray. No matter how hot it gets, she always hates cold showers.

Much of today involved getting supplies ready for the school build. She succeeded in keeping her distance from Ben as much as possible, monitoring him from afar. Even though he was still teasing and casual, he also worked endlessly and efficiently as he checked things off, helped move supplies to the husk of the school, and continued his measurements and calculations. He rarely used a pen and paper, instead counting things off on his fingers or with a tap of his pen. She wanted to question the voracity of his work, but there was a sharp intelligence just below the glitter of his playful eyes.

 There’s a kind of grace to his movements, and he carried crates and bundles and machines a hundred pounds at a time, back and forth between the farm truck and the build site. Although he wasn’t exactly fast, he was relentless. He glistened with sweat, arms rippling, legs flexing as he lifted things from the ground. When he reached for high shelves, his shirt rode up to reveal his back with its warm, caramel-coloured skin dipping into a strong spine. Not that she’s been looking.

Everyone really likes him. He makes his critical feedback sound like lavish praise, and they aren’t afraid to ask him questions. He also doesn’t look bad in a hardhat, with a lock of his wavy black hair poking out and curling to his satiny eyebrow.

No. She can’t think about that. Wonder how that brow would feel under her fingertips. She has an evening shift at the hospital tomorrow, which she’s grateful for. Build work is tricky, because she isn’t used to it. But at the hospital, she can flow between tasks and get completely absorbed in them. Nothing like a thirty-six hour shift to keep herself from thinking about another ten-year anniversary tomorrow. A private one, that almost no one knows about.

She pauses in the doorway as she spots a damp-haired Ben coming from around the back of the bath house. It didn’t make sense, logically, but he looks like he smells exquisite. His impressive stride shows off his long, shapely calves. He wavers when he sees her, but then straightens his broad shoulders and comes closer, his eyes shadowed by the bathhouse lights. A scattering of drops from his hair dots his forehead and neck, sparkling on his freshly trimmed beard. Watching for his reaction, she takes a step toward him, and he stiffens. His charming smile falters, and his eyes dart uneasily.

“Good evening, Lanie. Are you heading to campfire?”  He stops a few feet away from her, rocking on his feet. His shoulders are hunched inward a bit, and he angles slightly away from her. Invisible whisps of tangy citrus reach out from his skin and hair to tickle her nostrils. She’s gripped by the sudden intrusive compulsion to press her nose to his chest and inhale. To tangle her hands in his freshly washed hair and drag his face to hers…

Shaking off the thought, she fights to keep her expression observant but pleasant. For the moment, she isn’t sure whether she wants to scare him.

He crosses his arms and breaks his gaze as she continues to look at him without answering. She starts walking to the dining hall. Without missing a beat, he matches her movements, following after her. There’s something elegant about the way he tracks with her, like a split-second dance was shared between them. He’s usually so clumsy and bumbling. Every now and then he surprises her.

“I just love campfires.” His resonant, cheerful chatter seems a little frenetic, like he can build a wall of words between them as they walk five feet apart. “I remember when I was a kid, there was this one house with a firepit in the backyard. We used to make all sorts of things, like there’s this way that you can make apple strudel with two slices of white bread and a special iron press, and we made hot chocolate to go with it. I always wanted to go camping one day. I lived near these amazing mountains, and kids at school would always be showing off pictures of trips to Kananaskis and Banff and Waterton and it was all just a few hours away – ”

“You smell like key lime pie,” she remarks, poking a hole through the barricade as the words hit her. He’s from Alberta, too?

He falters from the sudden shift, but it only takes him a moment to adjust. “Oh, yes. I just had a shower and took care of that scraggle. It’s lime and cedarwood shampoo from this company called Rocky Mountain Soap, from where I used to live. And I used some bergamot oil from Kiehl’s in my beard after I shaved. Quite a nice combination, I think. Hope it’s not too strong, though? I hate obnoxious cologne guys. But there’s nothing better than smelling and looking nice, in my opinion. Just lifts your mood right up, and makes a person much more pleasant to be around. Decided to give myself a bit of a manicure, too, since it’s a special night.” He spreads his hands to show her his neat, tapered fingers, then takes a breath and glances at her. “Sorry. I know I talk a lot.”

“All that pampering sounds useless,” she decides.

Ben’s affronted expression hovers in the corner of her eye. “Geez. Are you always so mean?”

“I’m not mean.” The remark surprises her. Stings a bit. “I’m practical.”

Here, in the outlands of Africa, she can’t imagine doing more than a quick sponge bath and maybe running a brush through her hair. Which is too long, she knows, and she would save so much time if she cuts it, but she likes having options in case of emergencies.

“Well, so am I! I think it’s very practical to feel good about yourself and to have a good mood. It keeps the mind sharp.” He taps his fingers to his temples. “Plus, it’s a good distraction from the temptations of my other vices.”

“Sounds to me likes a waste of time and water. The water rations?” she reminds

“I’m happy to inform you that I take up less water than everyone else. For the most part, I use dry shampoo and body wash, leave-in conditioner, and good deodorant.” He clears his throat, then, as though he didn’t mean to say that. His unnecessary embarrassment makes her smile. “Anyway, you have nothing to worry about.”

They approach the dining hall, and Lanie can faintly hear the crackle of the wood and smell the smoke. She’s in a cloud of smells, a haze of memories.

“Karina and Cam are lovely people,” she tells Ben as they reach the campfire pit on the back concrete patio. “I’m glad you’re giving them good business.”

She leaves him for the other side of the tiered circle of stone benches surrounding the big open fire pit. Thankfully, he doesn’t try to follow her. Mickey’s already roasting some marshmallows among the throng of people with long sticks.

“Here you go, Boss!” she says merrily, indicating a stick resting on the outer edge of the pit. A sweet potato roasts on it. “It’s such a great night for a fire. I’m really glad the wind died down this afternoon and we didn’t have to cancel. I know it’s everyone’s favorite.”

“Thanks.” Lanie smiles absently and pokes the potato. It’s almost done.

“Sir!” Damian Pike pops a friendly salute to her. She nods in acknowledgement. Sheila, one of the cooks, and Aaron, the farm director, also wave. She can tell that they wonder what she’s doing here. She doesn’t worry about it, because her attention catches on Ben and Ali, directly across the huge firepit.

Apparently, Ali has completely forgiven him. They sit together on the other side of the flickering bright haze. It turns his caramel skin to burnished gold, and glints on the black waves of his hair. His silvery eyes seem lit from behind with the white-hot glow that branded her.

To Lanie’s surprise, Ali hands him a guitar case and helps him pull out a glossy, deep brown instrument. While she puts the case back under the bench, his fingers move to adjust the knobby things and pluck a few of the strings. Ali touches his thigh, leaning in to whisper in his ear. He grins at her, then bends his head over the guitar again, eyes closed. A chorus of bawdy hoots and hollers rise up when the opening cadenza of “Despacito” chimes from the strings. Grinning impishly at Ali, he closes his eyes again and rocks gently to the rhythm of the silky, sensual tune.

It looks like he’s singing the words to Ali, but Lanie can’t hear over the rowdy attempts of the crowd to keep up with the andante Spanish beat. The only parts they all get right are, “Despacito,” “favoritos, favoritos baby,” and “pacito, pacito, suave, suavacito.”

That sense of familiarity tickles Lanie’s brain as she watches him. The way he closes his eyes. How he bends over his guitar like he’s embracing a lover. Not to mention that the music he’s making seems to be channeled directly from heaven.

And he’s from Southern Alberta.

The memory punches into her. Fighting to control her breathing, she blocks the thoughts with a violent slam of the door in her mind, but it’s too late. Her vault of memories has been damaged.

How is it possible that someone from sixteen years ago and thousands of miles in the past can be here? 

Thanks for Stopping by!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13


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