Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Dance in the Sun"

This poem came out of the June 4, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, [personal profile] ellenmillion, [personal profile] erulisse, and Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "Engagement / Wedding" square in my 6-1-19 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Dance in the Sun"

[Wednesday, September 23, 2015]

Shiv had always thought
that weddings were awful, but
Tolli and Simon's was awesome.

They had the whole big house
and yard to spread out in, so folks
weren't tripping over each other
or jostling for elbow room.

The guests were a fascinating mix
of family, neighbors, military buddies,
SCA friends, Activity Scouts, and
people Tolli and Simon knew
from their work with disabilities.

There was food everywhere.

In addition to the usual buffet,
they had rented a smoker with
barbecued bits of a whole hog in it,
which gave off delicious smells.

Shiv had resisted the temptation
to stuff himself and instead ate lightly
so he still had the energy to dance.

There were plenty of places for it.

The front patio had been cleared
and the lawn mowed for dances
that required a lot of space, where
the rapper Dooley Howard held sway.

Indoors, the living room had also
been emptied to serve as a dance floor.

The table and chairs had made way
for a live band, their space protected
by the wide ribbons stretching between
the arches that defined the dining room.

Since Shiv already had a suit --
a handsome gray one with a spray
of flowers embroidered in pearly thread
that Ricasso got him for special occasions --
Simon sprang for a pair of dancing shoes
in handsome pale gray suede.

Patting his front, Shiv made sure
that his flagging was in place:
a purple rose stickpin on the right
to mark his follow role in dance,
and an ace pride handkerchief
in the pocket underneath it for
his disinterest in hooking up.

A row of chairs along one wall
gave people a place to sit and
rest between dance numbers.

Several dance wheelchairs
sat in the short hall that led
to Simon and Tolli's bedroom,
and more were out on the patio.

The dance wheelchairs were really keen.

Shiv could just feel the framework in his mind,
hyperlight aircraft aluminum for speed and
precision. They had no handles in back,
and the tiny front wheels were tucked
right next to the canted back wheels.

Simon had rented a dozen of them
for the wedding, so everyone could do
wheelchair dance if they wanted to.

It wasn't cheap, but he had explained
that a portion of the fee went toward
subsidizing sport wheelchairs for
people who couldn't afford them.

Shiv was all on board with that.

He spotted Noreen MacLennane,
the wheelchair dance instructor
Tolli and Simon had hired.

"Shiv! May I have this dance?"
she said, holding out a hand.

Well, that was an easy way to start.
"Sure," said Shiv, taking her hand.

The band struck up a cha-cha,
and Noreen led him onto the floor.

There was only room for a few couples
at a time, but that was okay, because
they had outside space too. People
could move back and forth to try both.

It took no time at all for Shiv to get into
the groove. One, two, cha-cha-cha.

Noreen's long red hair swayed
in time to the music as she
made her wheelchair sashay.

Shiv swayed along, letting his hips
follow his feet, enjoying the dance.

After the first one ended, Noreen
caught him eyeing the wheelchairs.

"They'll do a slow song next," she said.
"Do you want to grab a chair and try
a two-roller waltz? I bet you can do it."

"Yeah, let's go for it," Shiv said, grinning.

He settled into a wheelchair and rolled
out to meet Noreen. The walker couples
edged aside to give them extra room.

Shiv concentrated on moving
his wheelchair in a square. It was
a lot more responsive than Simon's spare
that he had borrowed to practice in.

"Eyes up, Shiv, you're supposed
to be having fun," Noreen coached.

"I am," he said, surprised to find
that it was true. "I just like the way
this chair feels underneath me."

"Gotta love those Romas," she said.
"I recommend their intermediate chairs
for my students who are getting into dancing."

Shiv could see why. The thing was light as
a feather and it could turn on a dime.

Maybe he'd challenge Simon to
a maze-race, if he felt like having
his ass handed to him. They could
always chalk one on the patio,
and the kids would love it.

At the end of that dance,
Molly caught hold of him.

"This is swing!" Shiv protested.
"I dunno how to swing dance yet."

"Just go with it," Molly said.
"If you roll back and forth, or
make a square, it'll look fine and
I know how to move with you."

She did, and she didn't trip
over his legs or his wheels.

Maybe it'd be worth trying
to learn swing some time,
though Shiv had all he could
handle just learning waltz, jive,
and cha-cha for the wedding.

When Molly let him go, Shiv
passed the wheelchair to
another boy for a turn,
planning to dance upright.

He looked around and spotted
an older brunette in the corner.

Remembering his lessons, he
tucked a hand behind his back,
gave a little bow, and said,
"May I have this dance?"

"Sure," she said. "I'm
Barbara Allan. You look
like the Shiv that Simon
won't shut up about."

He laughed. "Yeah,
that's me. I'm from
Omaha. And you?"

"Westbord," she said.
"I'm a beachcomber. I
gather raw materials and
make folk art from it."

"Oh yeah?" Shiv said
as they twirled onto
the dance floor. He
didn't know the tune,
but that was okay.
"I do some art too."

"What kind?" she asked,
deftly maneuvering her chair.

"Creme pastels on paper,
and uh, metalwork ... Tolli's
shown me some tricks with
that stuff," Shiv said.

"Cool," said Barbara Allan.
"Let go a minute, I want
to do some hand dancing."

Shiv let go, though he had
no idea what she meant.

Barbara Allan showed him.
She stretched her arms up,
waving overhead like grass,
then out to both sides.

"Wow," he breathed.
"Where'd you learn that?"

"I used to be a belly dancer,
before a stage collapsed under
my troupe," said Barbara Allan.
"I can still do the movements
that go above the waist."

It was beautiful to watch.

Shiv tried to copy her,
but it just made his elbows
stick out at awkward angles.

"Don't worry about it," she said.
"Men's dancing is mostly footwork."

It had been fun to try, though,
and Shiv smiled at her when
the dance finally ended.

He sat out the next dance,
taking time to catch his breath.

He was in a lot better shape
now than he used to be, but
the faster dances took a lot of
energy, and even the slow ones
required concentration to dodge
around the people in wheelchairs.

"Save one for me?" said a familiar voice.

"Of course," Shiv said, turning to Gray.
Since they had paired up for the wedding,
they'd done the first dance together and
would share the last, but Shiv didn't
mind snitching another because
Gray was a damn good dancer.

Shiv melted into Gray's embrace
as the older man wrapped an arm
protectively around his waist.

They swayed to the music, Gray
turning them perfectly in time
and Shiv following his signals,
the light pressure easy to read.

Shiv could feel the floor under
the soft, flexible soles of his shoes.
He really loved these shoes; they
made dancing so much easier.

At last the music wound down.
"Catch you later," Gray said with
a fond squeeze, and let him go.

"My turn," Simon said firmly.

"Gladly," Shiv said with a grin.
"Are you guys having fun?"

"Yes we are, and it looks like
a great party," Simon said as
he swiveled his hips, twisting
his wheelchair in its place. He
was so good with it that he
rarely even used his hands.

Shiv traveled alongside him
with an ease born from
weeks of practice together.

"I thought weddings sucked, but
yours is better than I expected,"
Shiv admitted. "It's kinda fun,
and the food is fantastic."

"That's a given with Cook
on the grill," Simon said.

They had, of course, invited
everyone whom they knew
at Blues Moon. Shiv was
guaranteed since he was part
of the wedding party, and Cook
because he manned the grill.

Everyone else had to draw straws.

"We're so glad you could make it,"
Simon said. "We really wanted
you to share our special day."

"Wouldn't have missed it for
the world," Shiv said, surprised
to find that he actually meant it.

"I'll tell Tolli," Simon promised,
and then released Shiv when
the song came to an end.

Shiv went outside in search of
a snack and something to drink.

He found that Heron had somehow
wheedled Cook into letting him have
an apron and a corner of the smoker grill,
where he was now happily handing out
skewers of grilled apples and pears.

Leave it to Heron to think that
a fun way to spend a wedding
was bent over a hot grill cooking.

The fruit kebabs were damn good,
though, and the cucumber-basil limeade
was delicious. Shiv put a pinch of salt
in his, because the day was pleasant but
he was dancing enough to raise a sweat.

Shiv ambled around while he ate
his snack, just watching the people.

They were all colors, even including
a few crayon soups here and there.

Shiv dropped his bamboo skewer
and paper cup in the recycling bin,
then drifted over to the person with
hot pink hair and rainbow crutches.

"Hi, I'm Shiv," he said. "Wanna dance?"

"Sure. I'm Dahlia, and my pronoun is thon."
Pushing away from the wall, Dahlia swung
thon's crutches into place. "Can you follow
my lead if I'm not actually touching you?"

"Yeah, probably," Shiv said. "I uh,
have superpowers so I can feel how
your body moves, and your crutches."

"Neat," Dahlia said. Thon's gait was
a little wobbly, but moved with confidence.

Okay, Shiv could work with that.

They claimed a corner of the patio,
while a trio struck up a soft, bluesy tune.

This was another one of those dances
that Shiv hadn't actually learned, but
that was okay, because blues dancing
didn't have much in the way of rules.
They were more like ... guidelines.

At first they just stepped side-to-side,
and Shiv could follow along with that.

Then Dahlia started traveling forward
and back, and Shiv noticed that thon went
one-two-three-four with crutches and feet.

"Can I put my hands on your shoulders?"
Shiv asked Dahlia. "I got an idea."

"Yeah, just don't mess with
my steps," said Dahlia.

Shiv took hold of thon,
carefully synchronized
all their movements, and
then ... step, step, pat, pat.

"Oh hey! You're mirroring
hands and feet," Dahlia said.

"It seemed like the best way
to match your four-beat," he said.

"You're good at adaptive dance,"
Dahlia said. "I'm lucky if I can
find a partner who won't trip
over my fucking crutches."

"Not here," Shiv said firmly. "I've
only been at this a month, and
most of that was wheelchair dance,
but Noreen is here and she teaches
this stuff. After we finish, go inside
and find her, she's a lot of fun."

Soon enough, the dance
came to a close, and Dahlia
went in search of Noreen.

"Hey, Shiv," someone said
from waist height. "Do you
dance with men? I need
someone who won't mind
if I do the hotdogging."

That was Leonel Ahrens,
one of Tolli's veteran friends.

"No problem," Shiv said.
"I'm mostly here to make
other people look good."

The trio played a faster tune,
and Leonel popped his wheelchair
up on the back wheels, rocking
back and forth in time to the music.

Shiv danced with him, staying
just out of reach, but following
Leonel's lead as best he could.

The older man twirled on two wheels,
then dropped down and spun on four.

When Leonel shifted to rocking
back and forth, Shiv stepped closer
and kept time with his motion.

It was a lot of fun, even if
Shiv doubted that he could
learn to do shit that fancy.

"Thanks, man, that was
fantastic," Leonel said
once the song ended.

"Any time," Shiv said.
"I had a blast too."

After that, he danced
with several more people,
mostly women and a few men.

Some he recognized from
Tolli and Simon's veteran work,
others from the Italians who
kept watch over the place.

Some of Mrs. Dr. Finn's
Sankofa siblings had come,
and friends from California.

It made a very mixed group.

Simon's birth family was
conspicuously absent.

That was good, because
they sucked almost as bad
as what Shiv grew up with.

On the other hand, it was
a little disappointing, because
Tolli had quietly taken him aside
and allowed that if any of them
dared to show up, Shiv was free
to bounce them as hard as he liked
so long as they didn't wind up needing
an ambulance when he was done.

Automatically Shiv scanned
the crowd again to make sure.

There were plenty of black faces,
people in African prints, scarves,
hair beads, and dreadlocks.

None of them were the faces
that Shiv had so carefully
memorized, though.

He danced with Buttons,
who picked him up for a twirl
and made him squeal in surprise.

Laughing, she let him stay on
the ground after that one.

"May I have this dance?"
Tolli asked as the musicians
shuffled around for their next tune.

"Yeah, I danced with Simon inside,
so it's your turn," Shiv agreed.
"Mind if I grab a chair?"

"Go ahead," Tolli said.

Shiv snagged a wheelchair
and settled into it, then let
Tolli lead him around.

The trio was playing
a slow, jazzy waltz.

Shiv remembered
the trick of making
his chair do a square.

"You're getting good at
this," Tolli praised, which
made Shiv squirm inside.

Something about approval
always made him want
to wriggle away from it
and remind people
what he really was.

Shiv didn't want to ruin
Tolli's wedding day, though,
so he pushed the impulse down.

He could always go on a tear tomorrow.

"It's just ... it's a lot, you know?"
Shiv said, leaning on Tolli.

"I know," Tolli said. "Remember
our vows, though? Love heals.
When we are wounded in the place
where we would know love, it is
difficult to imagine that love really
has the power to change everything."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "That's me ...
fucked up where it really matters."

"No matter what has happened
in our past, when we open our hearts
to love we can live as if born again,
not forgetting the past but seeing it in
a new way, letting it live inside us
in a new way," Tolli went on.

Shiv remembered part of
the vows, too, because he'd
helped both of them practice.

"We go forward with the fresh insight
that the past can no longer hurt us …"
It was bullshit, and he knew that,
but Shiv wished it were true.

"Mindful remembering lets us
put the broken bits and pieces
of our hearts together again,"
Tolli said, holding him gently.
"This is the way healing begins."

Shiv just leaned on him and breathed.

The song wound down, and Tolli
headed off to dance with Drew.

Shiv wandered around the edge
of the patio, watching people.

They came and went, and
eventually he stopped feeling
like he was walking around
with all of his skin peeled off.

He approached a pretty black girl
who wore a peach sheath dress.
"Would you like to dance?"

"Not many people want
to dance with a girl who has
hands like this," she said
as she lifted her arms.

Suddenly Shiv realized
that her left arm was made
entirely of dark brown plastic
and metal, ending in a hook.
The right cut off halfway down
her forearm, with another hook.

"I am not most people," he said.
"My name's Shiv. What about you?"

"Hooks," she said wryly. "Well,
Sarabelle Hooks, for an ancestor
and for a famous author, but then this
happened and I liked the nickname."

Shiv shrugged. "I named myself
out of a weapon I could always make.
So what else is holding you back?"

Hooks sighed. "It's hard to lead when
I can't really feel what I'm doing."

"Bet I can make that happen for you,"
Shiv said, holding out his hand.

She placed her left hook in his grip,
the shape of it cool and smooth.

Shiv curled his superpower around it,
felt the strong springy metal, limber cables,
and tough dark plastic of the arm itself.

Reaching upward, he feathered a touch
over the battered cup that had once
held the end of her arm bone.

Hooks gasped. "What is that?"

"Me holding hands ... with
my superpower," he said.
"I can manipulate anything
hard enough to hold an edge.
So metal, glass, stone, and
bone is right on the borderline."

"Wow," Hooks said. She pushed
gently against him. "I can feel it!"

"Yeah, I thought if I ran my power
through your whole arm and up
into your body, you would. People
can feel when I touch the coins in
their pockets," Shiv said, then
nibbled his lip. "Nervous habit."

"I don't mind," Hooks said.
"I think your gift is wonderful!"
She held out her other hook.

Shiv took hold. It took a minute
for him to get the hang of holding
a long grasp on one side and
a much shorter on on the other,
but he figured it out well enough.

"Do you jive?" he asked, listening to
the musicians signaling the next tune.

"Yeah, I can," Hooks said, smiling.

"Then lead the way," Shiv said
as the song started in earnest.

Hooks pushed gently against him,
and Shiv backed into the beginning
of the rock step. She pulled, and
he stepped smartly forward.

They sidled into the chasse,
moving as one body, her bones
speaking to him through his power.

Hooks laughed in delight, and
then she really took over.

Shiv scrambled to keep up
as she romped them around
the patio, trailing applause
like a flock of startled birds.

The musicians ended with a flourish.

Shiv flopped into a chair, panting.
"That was ... really great ... thanks."

"My pleasure," Hooks said, then
bounded off with some other guy.

It took Shiv a whole song just to get
enough energy to go find some water.

He chugged half the bottle, fanned
himself with his hand, then decided
that maybe he should walk to cool off.

Shiv wandered along the paths
that led farther out into the yard.

He could still hear the music,
but there were fewer people here.

Then he saw the girl on the bench.

She wore a white blouse over
a pink flowered skirt, and
her blonde hair tumbled
over her shoulders.

She looked melancholy,
though, leaning over with
her elbows on her knees.

"Hey," Shiv said softly.
"Sick of the party?"

She shrugged. "It's not
my idea of a good time."

"Did someone drag you
here?" Shiv said sharply.
Tolli and Simon had listed
that as something to check on.

"Only if you count Simon
bribing me," she muttered.

"Yeah, they do that with me too,"
Shiv said. "Sometimes it's worth it.
If I make with the big kitty eyes, I can
usually talk them into a whole fish dinner.
So what are you getting out of this deal?"

"As many books as I can carry, if I
make it a couple of hours," she said.

Shiv looked at his vidwatch. "If you
came when it started, you've got
a good ten minutes to kill. Want
some help? I'm Shiv, and I'm
one of hosts, more or less."

"Alyssa," she said. "It's nice
of you to offer, I just ... don't
really care about much."

Shiv looked at her wheelchair,
wondered if it were new, and
remembered Simon's stories
about how depressed he'd been
for a while after his injuries.

Pieces began coming together.

"So, did they give you any riders
on that deal?" Shiv said casually,
leaning against a tree. "They
do with me, if they want more
than just one thing at a time."

"There's a movie card, if I
dance at least once, but ..."
Alyssa thumped her chair.

"Yeah, learning to dance
in that takes a lot of practice,"
Shiv said. "I've been at it
for weeks and I only know
waltz, jive, and cha-cha.
Everything else I just fake."

Alyssa looked up at him in
surprise. "Why would you ...?"

"Tolli and Simon wanted everyone
to be able to dance at their wedding,
so my sister Luci and I learned both
how to dance in a wheelchair, and
how to dance with someone in one,"
Shiv explained. "I wanted them
to have a fun day, so here I am."

"Not sure I have the energy
for that," Alyssa said.

"That's okay," Shiv said.
"Why don't we just walk back
closer to the music? If we go
slow enough, it'll kill time."

Maybe once they got
near enough to the band,
she'd find the energy to dance.

He wouldn't push, though.

Alyssa rolled slowly forward.
Her wheelchair gloves had
pink lace on the backs and
white leather on the palms.

The music gradually got louder
as they approached the patio.

When they came around the corner
of the house, it changed to a tango.

Sure enough, there were Tolli and Simon
grinding all over each other in the middle
while a crowd of people cheered them on.

Alyssa made an unhappy noise.

"Yeah, fuck this idea," Shiv said.
"Let's just loop around the yard instead.
Get some grass stains on your skirt,
and we can fib a little about dancing."

"Sounds good," Alyssa said faintly,
executing a sloppy one-eighty.

Yeah, she was new at this.
No wonder she was bummed.

"Did Simon tell you why he
wanted you to come here, if you
don't enjoy weddings?" Shiv asked.

"He said depression and activity
don't like to live together," she replied.
"So far, it's hanging on for dear life."

"Yeah, it does that," Shiv said.
"It's still a pretty day, though.
Even when I feel like shit, I like
sitting outside. Sometimes I go
to this little pocket park and draw
the flowers. All we got's clover
and dandelions and shit, but it's
better than sitting with my memories."

"I hate that exercise," Alyssa said.

"Me too," Shiv said. Ambrose had
talked him through it, and it sucked.

The music from the patio changed
then, something bright and folky
that made Alyssa lift her head.

One nice thing about knowing
lots of musicians is that it let
Tolli and Simon invite enough
so everyone could play a while
and then go join the party.

That meant the style of music
changed too. The rap and blues
had been fun, the tango so not
his style, but this was interesting.

Then Shiv noticed Alyssa's foot
tapping in time to the music.

Looking around for inspiration,
Shiv spied the wild roses that had
overgrown their trimming already
and now spilled through the fence
in festoons of ivory petals.

Quickly he grabbed a few
and snitched some copper wire,
then twisted them into a headband.

He bent down again to pick a sprig
of purple aster and tuck it behind his ear.

Then he held out his hand to Alyssa.
"Come on. Let's dance in the sun,
wearing wild flowers in our hair."

She hesitated, then put her hand in his.

Suddenly Shiv realized that he would
have to lead this time, because if
Alyssa was so new she didn't even
know how to turn gracefully, she'd
have no idea how to dance.

He thought back to his lessons
in wheelchair maneuvers.

"Have you learned how to go
in a big circle?" Shiv asked.

"Yes, but ... that's not dancing,"
Alyssa said with a dubious look.

"Sure it is," Shiv said. "You have
to be creative in wheelchair dance.
Square dance, drive in a square.
Folk dance, well, what do they do?

"Most of those are ring dances,"
Alyssa said slowly. "Oh, I get it!"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "And how do
you go in a big circle? You push
with your outside hand, yeah?
So you do that, and I'll hold onto
your inside hand, and we're dancing!"

It worked. Alyssa's forward motion
wasn't much to brag about yet,
but she managed to roll over
the close-cut lawn while Shiv
did a slow grapevine beside her.

He remembered that much from SCA,
and it fit just fine with the music.

By the time they finished, Alyssa
was very nearly smiling at him.

Shiv escorted her back to the patio,
looked around for the newlyweds, then
firmly peeled Simon off Tolli's face.

"Cough up the movie card and go
walk Alyssa to her ride home," Shiv said.

Simon, thank fuck, had the extra bribe
tucked into a suit pocket and handed it over.
"I'm glad that you made it," he said. "Call me
after the honeymoon and we'll go book shopping."

"Okay," Alyssa said, tucking the card into
her purse. "Today was ... not totally awful."

"I'll call that a win," Shiv said, nodding.

Once Simon and Alyssa were on their way,
he slumped against the garage wall.

"Tired?" Tolli asked. "From what
I've seen, you've been working hard."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "It doesn't suck,
though. Most of the music is good, and
I've danced with some interesting people.
Those Roma chairs are incredible, too."

"I know," Tolli said. "I tried out one
to dance with Simon earlier. If we could
afford another chair, we'd be tempted."

Shiv rolled one shoulder in a tired shrug.
"We could always go visit Noreen's studio,"
he said. "That's what she stocks for students,
and they have those community dance nights
once a month to drum up new participants."

"Something that might interest you?"
Tolli wondered, watching him closely.

"Maybe some time," Shiv said.
He closed his eyes and leaned
his head back against the wall.

"You look worn out," Tolli said.

Shiv pushed himself upright.
"I can keep going," he insisted.
"I promised to help with the dancing!"

"Okay, what have you been doing
for the last two hours?" Tolli asked.

"Well, I ate lunch, then I danced in
the living room for a while," Shiv said.
"I came back outside to get a snack.
Then I danced on the patio. I got sick of
that, so I took a walk and met Alyssa,
danced with her, and here we are."

"I would say you've more than
kept your promise," Tolli replied.
"Why don't you go check out
the introvert party? Neither
of us has had time yet."

"Introvert party?" Shiv said.
He vaguely recalled hearing
something about that, but he
was too tired to bring up details.

"It's in the basement," Tolli said,
giving him a gentle push toward
the front door. "Go take a look."

So Shiv went indoors and
headed down to the basement.

The introvert party was in what
usually served as the weight room.

Mallory and Dairinne were stretched out
on the wide workout table, snoring.

Mrs. Wu held an unfamiliar toddler,
reading Touchy-Feely North Carolina.
Shiv rubbed his fingers, remembering
the California one she'd shown him.

Two school-age boys were building
a 3D puzzle of the Freedom Tower.
Shiv recognized that one, because
Tolli and Simon had a whole row
of tower puzzles in that style.

The sound of running water
and laughter made him frown.

He headed back to the bathroom,
where he found two girls in swimsuits
playing in the roll-in shower under
the watchful gaze of their grandmother.

Shiv shook his head and decided not to ask.

When he went back into the party room,
he noticed another boy huddled
in the corner, facing the wall.

"Hey kid, if you don't like people,
you'll do better with the wall
to your back," Shiv said.

"Brayden." The flat voice
made Shiv suspect that he
wasn't the interactive type.

"Okay, Brayden. Hi, I'm Shiv,"
he said. "Are you okay?"

Brayden glanced over
his shoulder, winced,
and turned back around.
"Room's too busy."

Shiv looked around at
the several people, all of
them doing quiet things.

"You want me to make you
some walls?" he asked.

Brayden looked up again.
"You can do that?" he said.

"Yeah, I ... sorta live here. Ish."
Shiv hunted around until he found
where the big fall mats had wound up.
Those were six inches thick, and
would stand up on their sides.

He used those to wall off
the corner most of the way,
then kicked a couple of cushions
within reach of the narrow gap.

"There you go, instant privacy,"
Shiv said. "Enjoy the party."

"Thanks," Brayden said,
dragging the cushions inside.

Shiv could hear the soft sound
of a smartphone game turned
down to its lowest setting.

No wonder Brayden had
been staring at the wall.

Shiv ambled away, waving
a hand through the white spill
of the mist fountain tucked in
the opposite corner of the room.

It gave off a faint, soothing smell
of lavender and peppermint.

Footsteps accompanied by
an odd clicking sound
made Shiv look up.

Hooks came down
the stairs, and Shiv
realized that the sound
was her hook hitting
the top of the hand rail.

"Hi, Hooks," Shiv said.
"What brings you down here?"

"Had a little too much fun, and
I need to unwind," she said, flopping
into a chair beside an end table.
"What is there to do down here?"

"Puzzles and games and books,"
Shiv said, looking at the stack of
stuff crammed into the end table.

"Any dex games?" Hooks said,
then shook her head. "Who am I
kidding, nobody will play with me."

"Why not?" Shiv wondered.
"Lots of people like those."

"I'm too good at them, even
like this," she said, lifting a hook.
"It's what I played in therapy."

"Ah," Shiv said. "No problem.
If you whip my ass too bad,
we'll just figure out some way
to make the game more fair."
He rummaged in the stack.
"Jenga or Pickup Sticks?"

"Let's start with Jenga,"
Hooks said, leaning forward.

"Okay," Shiv said, and set up
the stack of wooden blocks.

Hooks was, in fact, amazingly good
at moving blocks without toppling them.
Shiv had as much fun just watching
how she delicately used the hooks
as he did making his own moves.

Between her extensive practice
and his superpowers, they
were actually well matched.

The shower girls and
their grandmother left,
now dressed in dry clothes.

Hooks and Shiv switched
to playing Pickup Sticks.

When he did too well
with the metal set, Hooks
mixed in the smooth wood
and shaped plastic pieces.

It completely fucked up
his superpower sense.

"I hate you right now,"
Shiv grumbled at her.

Hooks just laughed
at him and slipped out
the ten-point ladder.

More feet thumped down
the stairs as two teens arrived,
a boy and a girl twined together.

Brother and sister rather than
boyfriend and girlfriend, Shiv thought,
noting similarities of appearance
between the two of them.

Each of them carried a camera,
and the girl held a white book
that turned out to say Mr. & Mr.
on the cover under two top hats.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Artemis and
this is my brother Apollo. We're
making the candid photo album
as our wedding contribution.
Anyone else want to join?"

"Nah, we just finished
our tower," one boy said,
and they scampered away.

Shiv was intrigued, though.

"What are you doing with
the album?" he asked.

"Well, Tolli and Simon
put out disposable cameras,
and some other folks brought
their own," Artemis said. "We
don't like the usual party stuff, so
we volunteered to make an album."

Meanwhile Apollo was setting up
a laptop computer and portable printer.

Soon it began spitting out snapshots.

There were Tolli and Simon dancing,
both in wheelchairs this time.

Several kids were playing
in the horse trough, when
nobody was even supposed
to be inside the paddock.

Someone had captured
a butterfly landing on
the pile of wedding gifts.

Two wheelchair dancers
had an epic collision,
followed by Mrs. Dr. Finn
patching up both of them.

There were Tolli and Simon
dancing again, but this time
two of Simon's veteran friends
had hoisted him upright briefly.

Dahlia had evidently won
a balloon-stomping contest.
Shiv regretted missing that.

Someone had even caught
Alyssa dancing in the sun,
although it was so badly framed
that only half of her was visible
and none of him showed at all.

She was almost smiling, so
maybe that's why they kept it.

Hooks leaned over to help
Artemis rough-sort photos
into chronological order.

"There aren't any pictures of
the introvert party," Apollo said.

"Probably because introverts
are most prone to refuse
permission for pictures,"
Artemis pointed out.

"We could just
shoot some now,"
Apollo said, looking
at Mallory and Dairinne.

"If you shoot her in her sleep,
she will hex you into next week,"
Shiv warned the twins.

"Yeah, but without it, we're
missing out on an important part
of the wedding," Apollo said.
"Not everyone bothers with
an introvert party, you know?
We want to thank them for
hosting one, and they'll
want to remember it."

Shiv winced.

Tolli and Simon
hadn't even asked
for a photo of him.

They just announced
the posed photos with
a reminder that anyone
could choose to bow out.

Shiv had skipped them all.
He hated having his picture
taken for any reason.

He'd gotten them a gift
already, from the registry --
a big crystal punch bowl,
for which Buttons had bought
the matching set of twenty cups
and a ladle that went with it.

He could think of something
they'd want more, though.

"Take some pictures of the room
to start," Shiv said. "You can do
a few of me, as long as you don't
show my face in any of them."

"Me too," Hooks said. "We
could go back to our game."

"Good idea," Shiv said.
It would help keep his mind
off the photographers.

Just having Apollo and
Artemis taking pictures in
the room made Shiv's skin
crawl, but he gritted his teeth
and stayed in his seat.

After Apollo climbed atop
the home gym to shoot
the mist fountain and
Artemis lay on her back
taking photographs of
who-knew-what, though,
Shiv mostly forgot them.

It was only when they started
talking about pictures they took that
he looked up from losing the game.

"Delete that one, I can see too much
of his face in it," Artemis said.

"This one's good," Apollo said.
"I've got both of them, and Shiv
has his back to the camera."

"Yeah, and here, just their feet
together," Artemis said, pointing.

Why had she shot their feet?

But when Shiv went over to look
at the pictures, it was actually kind of
cute -- he and Hooks had their feet
twined together as they played.

"Keep this one too," he said,
pointing to a snapshot of his hands
hovering over the pickup sticks. Just
a corner of his chin showed, but most
of the embroidery on his jacket gleamed
as it reflected the camera's flash.

It proved who the hands belonged to --
but only if you knew who wore that suit.

"You can always ask more people
for pictures later," Hooks said.
"Those two won't sleep forever."

It was touch-and-go whether
Mallory would agree, even awake,
because supervillain ... but that
didn't need said, and besides,
maybe she'd think like Shiv
and give in for the wedding.

"We have enough to make
a two-page spread," Artemis said.
"See, we can put the pictures of
the room on the left, and then
the ones of you two on the right."

She arranged them so that
the horizontal snapshot of
their feet went on the bottom,
and the other two above it.

"That looks good," he said.
"You've got an eye for this."

"You really think so?" Artemis said.

Shiv looked at the album with
its tentative spread of photographs
showing the introvert party-goers.

"I think," Shiv said, "that you're holding
their favorite present in your hands."

* * *


This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes appear separately.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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