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Awakened By Fireflies

Copyright 2018 Kimberly Clifton

Published by Kimberly Clifton at Smashwords



Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

About The Author

Prologue

Setting



The year is 2059, 40 years after the Reign of Blood wars began, which had through ego and arrogance decimated the world’s population to a fraction of what it had previously been.

After the Global Community Force brought peace to what remained, a few generations have passed, knowing only the absence of war, technological advancement, and the prosperity among those in the new capitals of commerce and civilization. Global Force expansion has stretched outward from the planet and established lunar mining colonies, as well.

The people of Earth felt they had evolved past the destructive natures that had destroyed their planet’s past, and all records of pre-Global Force days had been destroyed to ensure they were not repeated. However, without studying their planet’s past, they might risk having to re-learn them.



Main Characters



Kate Meanders – daughter of two lunar scientists on the colony of Alphaz. Top of her engineering class, she has been elevated to work at the regional capital Diatria, where she has been working for a year.


Captain Richard Rowan – A playboy, project-manager at Kate’s location, responsible for the construction and repair of items tasked to Diatria, often too busy chasing women and partying to get anything done.


Mayor McKinsey – Longest running mayor in Diatria history, under whose reign economic success and glamour had abounded for his city.


Becca Lasiter – News Reporter at New Diatria Press, one of the leading newspapers in the region.


Rachael Meanders – Kate’s cousin living on Earth, away from the busy city of Diatria in Exliting Falls province.


Ben Jones – Rugged and grounded friend of Rachael’s with an inviting heart and surprising past.


Chapter 1

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you anticipated. Kate knew that. She did. There are always minor changes you have to do along the way to your dreams. But, what do you do when you get closer to your dreams and find them more like nightmares?

Kate grew up on the moon mining colony of Alphaz, where it was always dark and depressing. It was forever away from anything close to real civilization. If it weren’t for the industrial walls and lack of atmosphere, the culture could have been from 500 years ago. People just lived to exist, and Kate wanted so much more than that.

Then, there were her parents. Just like all the other parents of the town, they got up, went to work, came home to scraps of food, and went to sleep. They had imported the lifestyle of their parents on Earth to the moon. She never knew how anyone could live like that. All she knew was that she couldn’t.

That is what drove Kate to achieve. Some people sought achievement to get money or things or to satisfy their ego need for self recognition. She just wanted to escape … ANYWHERE. It didn’t help that, whenever she saw footage from outside the colony, she could see the bright shining rock of Earth staring at her and TAUNTING her with what she couldn’t have. Or, COULD she?

So, partially from this drive and partially from boredom, she joined every organization she could at her school, growing up, and won academic contests. Winning academic contests definitely didn’t help with friends, who through jealously would make her life hell with names, rumors, and more. However, THAT only served to drive her on to leave, even more.

After graduating, she got a scholarship to study Engineering at the Blane College Center on EARTH. YES! She had her ticket away from her valley of the dead…finally. A few years, later, that opportunity led her to be hired by the Global Community Force at the regional capital of Diatria, which she had only read about in books or seen on videos, growing up. She had made it to happiness. Or, had she?



Chapter 2

“Becky, has Captain Rowan returned my call, yet?.

“Not yet, Ms. Meanders.”

Kate scowled at this and muttered under her breath. This is one part of the job on which she WASN’T trained….how to get your clients to care about their own projects.

Captain Richard Rowan was in charge of the exploratory and research facility unit on Diatria. Among other things, it was tasked to come up with alternative power sources for the colonies. Their contract by the Global Community Force was “to empower production increases by increasing the quality of life of the colony inhabitants.” This was what drew Kate to apply for this position, recalling her own experience growing up in one of those communities.

“Well, see if you can get ahold of him, again.”

“Yes, Ms. Meanders,” Becky chimed.

Kate hated having to get onto Richard to get things done. She joined to be a professional, not a professional nag for someone like hounding a disobedient child. Richard was the same level of worker as she was. Indeed, he was OLDER than her. Shouldn’t he be the one mentoring her in her new relatively new job? However, in her first year since joining the Global force, the main thing she noticed was just how uninspired everyone was at doing their job.

RING

“Hello?”

“Hey beautiful,” came the husky voice of Michael, her canoodling buddy, as he put it once. They had been seeing each other for over a year, but he had the commitment phobia of a panicked squirrel. Every time she brought up getting more serious, he just changed the subject by way of physical pleasure. Who was going to say no to that?

“Hey”

“What’s wrong?”

Kate sighed loudly. “It’s the same thing, as always. God! I feel like I am a baby sitter around here. It’s like… someone is doing a favor to society to actually do their job.”

“You just need to relax. How about we go to that restaurant with the balcony, tonight? You can see the sunset. You know how much you love that. It would be very relaxing, especially with wine.”

“Mmm, you know how to sweet talk a girl. It’s a date.”

Hanging up, Kate didn’t know how she felt about the night. She liked the attention, and he always took her to the best spots. She did love sunsets. Of course the sun SET where she grew up, but, without atmosphere, it just wasn’t the same. On the other hand, it was becoming more and more clear that Michael was NEVER going to become her forever love, and she might be just wasting her time with him. But, wine is wine, and a sunset night might just take the edge off this day.

“Ok, Ms. Meanders. Mr. Rowan is on line 1.”

“Finally!” said Kate punching the button. She predicted in her mind exactly what she would hear.

“Richard…”

“Have you ever just had one of those days, when everything is sunshine, Kate?”

Kate exhaled and rolled her eyes. “What is her name?”

“Elena…can you believe that? What a pretty and elegant name,” Richard continued in a dazed tone.

“Oh, you know her name, this time. I’m impressed.”

“Yes…I know her name,” he retorted. “We talked and talked for hours.”

“Oh, you only talked?”

Richard paused and laughed. “Well, we didn’t ONLY talk.”

“Well, while you have been talking and talking, my proposal is sitting on your desk.”

“Oh, that…yeah, I read that last night. We’re going to pass on it.”

Kate didn’t know which more frustrated her. Was it that he had not felt like she needed an answer to a proposal with a handwritten “CALL ME WHEN YOU READ THIS” at the top? Or was it that she had spent so long working on something Richard felt was less important than the name of his most recent weekend fling. And, now, she was just trying to NOT imagine them doing it ON TOP of that proposal. That tramp probably had the written words tattooed on her back, now.

“Why? The sensors are indicating a fault in that air filter. Those residents are living a half mile from a huge exhaust pipe, and that filter is their only protection from..”

“Kate. I admire your passion, but the money is just not there, especially if we are going to focus our resources on power.”

“Ok. So, when are we going to talk about that,” Kate pressed. “I’ve been working here for a year, and all I have done is training videos and maintenance projects. I got involved in this organization for the power projects.”

She could hear his frustrated sign on the line. “How about next Tuesday? Does that work? We will go over the options we have in the pipe.”

THANK YOU for WORKING, Kate thought. “Ok, sounds good,” she said, but she wasn’t sure if he heard that, before he hung up the phone.

FUN, she thought. What a great job.

Chapter 3


Kate walked into her living area, dropping her devices at the door and scattering her things on the way to the shower. She needed to wash away the filth of not only the public transports and the mental clutter inflicted by her day.

At least she had the date, tonight. Mmm ... Sunset and wine. That will be nice. Then, she thought about her escort for the evening and wondered when she had to deal with that issue. Not tonight, she promised her self. Tonight, just enjoy a night being you.

Exiting the shower and towel around herself and her hair, she glanced at the clock. It was an hour and a half till the date. MAYBE, just maybe, she could have five minutes to just relax. As she thought laying back on the bed and closing her eyes, she consciously unclenched her muscles and stilled her mind. She massaged her shoulders and neck and felt that she could just fall asleep from the exhaustion. That is another thing they didn’t teach you in college…work is TIRING. Ugh. However, it’s what she wanted to do…right? A glance at the clock told her that her 5 minutes were up, and she started to get dressed and glamorized.

As she started moving, she wrestled with the thought that she would be spending the next hour getting ready for a man that wouldn’t ever know or notice all the effort that she would take over the next hour to prepare for seeing him. Ha, he would probably take 5 minutes and wear a t-shirt, she thought.

The crazy things women do for…love? Well… for wine, at least.


Chapter 4

“Someone is waiting for me,” Kate told the doorman at the restaurant, who gave her a once over and said, “I bet they are.”

That made Kate smile. Women have this twisted internal conflict, where we don’t like to be seen as a sexy object but like to get reactions like that. That said, Kate bet that Michael wouldn’t even notice.

“There he is,” she announced, pointing over at a table on the balcony. The doorman nodded and led her to the table.

“Sir, your guest has arrived.”

“Uh huh...” Michael was in the middle of a phone call and just nodded, staring out the window with a quick glance at Kate. Yep, she thought. Who knows if the ‘Uh Huh’ was even about her?

“Well, would the lady like anything to begin?”

“A white wine, please. Just bring whatever is the house wine.”

With that he wandered away, leaving her to feel embarrassed on the date, already.

The sun was just nearing setting just over the wall that surrounded Diatria. The wall was so high that you could see the sunset from only one of a few places near the city. Why did they need a wall, Kate thought, every time. However, no one ever seemed to know.

“Ok. That sounds like a good idea. I will try to make that happen,” Michael said into his phone as his call ended. Setting down his phone, he smiled and looked at it for a few seconds.. “Sorry. Just a call from work that I had to take. Did you order?”

“Just the wine. How about we not talk about work this evening? I have had enough of it for a day.”

Michael smiled and grabbed her hand. “That sounds perfect. It’s just you and me, then.”

For all his faults, that was just what she needed, tonight. Maybe, he’ll do. Maybe..

Dinner was amazing, as always. It was one of the things she liked about this restaurant. They never had meals like this back home, since the community was always so poor that food was given the faintest of spices and cheapest of courses.

Ha, Kate thought, as she considered what people would think of her fascination with the food. All around her were people in fancy clothes and 500 dollar nails, talking about their new patio…or pool boy, and she was thinking O.M.G., as she processed the million flavors of the crab or lobster mixing with the wine.

In another life, she would love to be a food critic. Instead, she was just a work critic, so much so that it took less than the length of a meal to be back on her frustration with Richard.

“And, it’s not like he really cares about the budget, either,” she vented as they ventured out on the patio after the meal. “He just spent God knows how much on Ms. Whos-her-name.”

“Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t, but what can you do about it?”

“I can report him,” Kate snapped back.

“And, what is that going to accomplish…just branding you as the new girl that causes waves? You need to keep your career in mind.”

Michael had a point, but she just felt so helpless.

“Yeah … maybe. Sorry, I ended up turning the sunset into a dump-fest about work, again.”

“It’s ok. I just hope you put this behind you.”

“Ok.”

Turning to catch one more look at the fading light from the day, she saw a column of smoke rising from near where the air filter was malfunctioning in town, and she decided it was time to don the detective cap to explore it, even if present company was against it.

“If it’s ok, I think I want to clear my mind with the sunset and get a little rest, tonight. Thanks for the evening out, but I may just walk and think a little.”

“No problem, beautiful. Get a little rest. Clear your mind.”

With a quick peck on the cheek, he was on his way, and she was waiting long enough to see him turn the corner to set off in the direction of the smoke.


--


The night sky hung over the city like a thick fluffy blanket absorbing all the waste being pumped into the air, which was exactly what Kate wanted to prevent. However, Richard was too busy dating women that were as transparently simple as this problem SHOULD be to him.

On the way to the filter, she passed a man on the street with a face as wrinkled and rough as leather and coughing. With all the smoke wear on his body, it was hard to tell if he were 25 or 50 years old.

“Cough…hhhck,” Kate spattered, as she entered the pollution cloud as she neared the community filter. Much longer down here, and she would need to call in sick, herself. Why was it THIS bad? It should at least be…

Then, she noticed there WAS no filter, just an empty pipe leading out to where she saw the smoke rising just beyond the dirty glass wall.

“What the hell?”

Then, from behind her, she heard a rattle of a can on the ground as a woman in a trench coat stepped from the shadows, hand held recorder in hand.

“What the hell, indeed, Ms. Meanders,” said the woman, staring up at the same sight she had just seen.

“Who are you,” Kate pressed the new visitor to her surroundings.

“Becca Lasiter, New Diatria Press. I overheard you at the restaurant and decided to follow you. Can I assume you didn’t know about this environmental emergency?”

Oh, great…the press. New of the job, and she was already right in the middle of a public relations nightmare. Michael would be so proud…not.

“No. I didn’t, and I really don’t think that I should be talking about it, until I talk to some of my staff.”

“But, didn’t I overhear you saying that your staff had ALREADY been told about it, and they are unwilling to fix the issue?”

“No … I … I think you might have got some things wrong, and I will deny whatever you THINK you heard me say, until I have a chance to get some confirmations.”

With that, Becca clicked off her recorder and extended a card. “Very well…I anticipate your call, tonight, before I go forward with the story that what I HAVE heard would write.”

As the reporter walked away, Kate sighed deeply and glanced up at the missing filter.

“Awesome”

Chapter 5

Michael sat next to Kate on the front row, as Captain Rowan stood at the podium with a large man that stepped up to the mike, Mayor McKinsey of Diatria.

“Welcome … welcome … take a seat. So glad to have you come to witness event. We in Diatria pride ourselves on not only being the best but hiring the best for our staff and for our citizens. Today, we honor one of those best individuals in Kate Meanders. A few days ago, she brought it to our attention that the air filter sensors were detecting an anomaly, and we put it in her capable hands to determine the cause of the errors.

“As it turns out, a recent storm had severely injured the filter for sector 12…ripped it right off the hinges, as it were. We have discovered the filter a few miles down wind, but it is ONLY for the extraordinary efforts of Ms. Meanders that this problem was discovered. Since the health of our citizens is the HIGHEST priority, we have dispatched a new filter installation, this morning. It should be being installed, as we speak.”

Kate flashed a “this is all b.s.” expression to Michael and mouthed O.M.G. Michael squeezed her hand and continued his conversation from dinner with his eyes, reminding her to not make waves.

“Kate, why don’t you come up here?” the mayor said with a stern look and motion.

Richard waved her up, also. He stood there, looking like a boy caught by his father with his hand in the cookie jar. The mayor looked at Kate with an inviting but frustrated look on his face. However, He definitely didn’t seem happy to her to be there, today. Kate rose and went to the stage and stood next to Richard.

“So, today, I am delighted to award the Always Better award to Richard Rowan and Kate Meanders.”

As applause filled the room, the mayor lifted the first award and placed it upon Richard’s shoulders, whispering something in his ears. Kate could not hear what it was, but she could tell from his expression that it wasn’t good.

Then, he lifted the next award and stared right into Kate’s eyes, as he lowered the award onto her shoulders. His look was not one of gratitude but anger…as his bloodshot eyes kept her gaze. It was suddenly very clear to her that Michael was right. She may be getting an award by the mayor for what she discovered, but the mayor was NOT happy with her, right now.

“You really kicked open a hornet’s nest, didn’t you?”

“That wasn’t my intention,” Kate said, trying to calm her obviously distressed public boss. “I was just trying to make things better.”

“I understand,” he said straightening the award with a quick fake smile to the cameras and turning back to her, leaning forward to whisper in her ear, as well.

“And, this had BETTER be the last time that I have to give you this award. Are we clear?”


--


“What were you thinking,” Richard shouted at Kate, as they entered her office after the ceremony.

“I was thinking that there was a problem. Isn’t that supposed to be what we are doing, here…fixing problems?”

Richard exhaled with a laugh, looking away from Kate and out the window at the smoke rising in the distance.

“No. We are working at a job…for very powerful people that can destroy not only your career but your life. I don’t know about you, but I want to keep living.”

The words hit Kate hard. What had she got herself into by taking this job? It sounded to professional. It was so comforting to be working for such a large and powerful organization, but large and powerful didn’t sound very comforting, right now.

Richard flopped down in a chair opposite Kate’s desk, looking like a balloon that was slowly being deflated. What had the mayor said in his ear, Kate wondered.

“Look,” Richard said, “I appreciate your concerns. You are so full of passion and pep. We all started that way. You just don’t know what it is really like working, here.”

“Maybe, I shouldn’t work here,” Kate retorted.

“Ha … yeah.” Richard smiled and looked up at Kate. “You might give that some thought, while you still have a chance.”

With that, Richard got up and almost skipped out of the office. Was he HAPPY that she was threatening to quit?

RING. Kate’s personal phone jumped to life as a welcome attention break.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Kate? It’s Becca Lasiter from New Diatria Press.”

“YOU … haven’t you given me enough of a headache, today,” Kate shot back at the source of her discomfort, today.

“Are you saying the mayor’s words were less than truthful at the ceremony?”

Nope…not going to bite my own head off, again, Kate thought.

“No comment. What is today’s story” Kate inquired with a sigh.

“No story. Just a friendly tip. Our staff photographer caught something that I think you should see. I’m sending it to you, now. Have a good day.”

Kate put down the phone and opened her computer to see what Ms… put my nose in your business …had to send to her. Why should she care, whatever it was, after what the last story brought on her?

Then, as she clicked on the email, she thought she might have to change her mind. Caught in a very clear, high-resolution picture was Michael, her boyfriend, talking over drinks with the mayor. The time and date stamped on the photograph were the night before the ceremony. Under the picture, the email said, “And, he overheard the man in the photo telling the mayor, ‘I’ll handle her, sir.’”

Kate sat in shock, looking at the computer screen. Why would Michael be meeting with the mayor? He was a tailor, and that didn’t look like he was measuring the mayor for a new suit. Michael didn’t run in those kinds of circles, either. For all he had told Kate, he was a poor man of a poor family with no connections to anyone.

They had met, when she was just hired into the force. She had been running in the park, near her house, when she had accidentally tripped over him after a corner. They laughed over the incident and started a long conversation that ended with him offering to show her around. After about the 3rd town tour, he asked her out. As he knew the best places to go, she accepted. The rest was history, but had she been…played?

Kate determined to get to the bottom of this with Michael, but just then Becky appeared at the door.

“Ms Meanders? I put a message on your desk that just came for you.”

“Ok, thank you.” Kate lifted her computer to find a personal message with very familiar handwriting on the name and address. It was her mother. Ah, well, that could take her mind off of things, at least.

“Kate, dear,” the message began. “I have some bad news for you. Your grandmother, Veronica, has passed away. I know your job keeps you very busy; but, if you could join us for her funeral, that would be very welcome. It will be held at your uncle Tom’s house in Exliting Falls, next Tuesday.

Kate sat hard processing the news. Her grandmother Veronica had been one of the most inspiring forces in her life, growing up. She was a fiery woman full of pep, herself. That pep was contagious and was one of the reasons she felt inspired to reach her goals, even thought her grandmother was content to live in a small farming community on Earth, Exliting Falls, near Kate’s uncle Tom. Kate always wondered how someone so passionately opinionated could be content to live off the grid in a quiet community.

She remembered one time her grandmother visiting her that illustrated just how independent she could be. When her mom and uncle were out of the room, Kate was left alone with her grandma. Veronica had leaned over and whispered to her, “They think I don’t know what they are saying about me, but I know…it’s kind of fun to keep them on their toes.’” After that, Kate learned that they had been talking about her being in a home, and her grandmother would not settle for such a thing. So, why did she slow down and check out from everything else?

Well, maybe Kate could understand a little, she thought as she considered the day she had just had. With a quick text to Richard to ask for the days off, she thought this would be a great excuse to just get away and THINK for the first time in a while … about work, about Michael … about everything. A quick “EXCELLENT idea” reply from Richard made her think that maybe he thought so, too.

Michael…well…he will probably not even notice she left, unless he is checking up on her for the mayor. If that is the case, he can just have nothing to report.

Chapter 6

Kate could have taken the shuttle to the farm, but she thought that this would be an excellent time to just unwind and think. She had not really had much time to do that, since leaving college. It had just been one meeting after another, dates with Michael, and trying to get setup and adjusted to living in Diatria. So, she took a car ride out to her uncle’s house. It would be a drive, several hours. However, for someone that grew up on a mining community, it was like going on an amusement park ride to drive, even if the computer was really the one navigating and steering. She was just sitting behind the wheel and looking out the windows.

Why was it, she wondered, that they kept car design the same it used to be, back when they used fossil fuels for the auto transportation. That car design had been updated to run on cleaner crystal fusion, after all the damage that cars had done to the environment. In fact, this change was what first drew her to go into engineering.

Earth had become too polluted, a generation ago. There were the global warming / climate change people protesting, as always. However, what had really caused a change was when the rich people living in the high rises started seeing the smog out their windows, and they didn’t like the view. How could they present the message that they were trying to make the planet great, when all their investors could see smog out their windows.

So, something had to be done, but cutting fumes from their engineering plants would impact what they loved most … their profits. So, as a concession, the government had adopted tighter standards on cars driven by the poorer people, causing them to buy more expensive cars, which … in turn … just made the rich that got into auto sales even richer and the poor even poorer.

As a result of all this, cars had been re-designed to be non-toxic, and Kate had been inspired to find new ways to do the same with everything else that still corrupted the home planet and beyond.

Yet, cars still looked like….cars. They even had a steering wheel, and the seat sat behind it for the “driver”…even though no one was trained to DRIVE the cars, anymore. The computer A.I. did all the driving. Kate mused as she sat looking out the window that it must be an attempt to make people still feel like they had some control, even though she appreciated being able to just look out at the trees.

This would be a good break. It had been years, since she had visited her uncle Tom. Tom and his family lived out in a quiet area, just South of Exliting Falls, on a Farm of all things. Kate had always considered them not just quaint but archaic, like those communities that rode around in horse and buggies. They were not that bad, but their tractor did run on fuel, whose exhaust Kate tried to not think made it into the food they provided.

However, what had been the most confusing to Kate was why they were so happy, being away from everything and without all the modern conveniences of society. Even on her mining community, Kate had grown up with technology to let her know what was happening, anywhere. Even if the signal was delayed getting to her planet, she STILL was more globally aware than Tom’s family. Indeed, every time she visited them, she was out of the loop, too, because…

And, almost as if on cue, she noticed her cell phone signal had just lost signal … just like it did in the visits to Tom as a kid. She was detached, unconnected, and alone with her thoughts, and that was a scary place to be, even if that was why she chose the ride.

Well, maybe she would just listen to the music and look at the pretty trees. That’s the kind of thinking she would rather be doing, right now.


Chapter 7

Tom and Cecelia’s house was an old, turn of last century type house. The kind you expect to see on the cover of an old house restoration magazine…or haunted house brochure. Kate thought of the memories she had of times spent there. They were certainly wireless detached days, but they were days of exploration and self-discovery.

“Good MORNING,” chimed Cecelia, greeting Kate at the front steps of their home. She took Kate’s bags from her hands and started walking her to the door. “Tom is out in the back lot collecting firewood for the bond-fire, tonight. Your cousin Rachael is out back with a few of her friends catching up.”

As Kate walked in the door, she was taken back by the smell of cinnamon rolls cooking in the kitchen, and she loved the sound of her steps creaking on the boards of the old house, as she walked. It was as if the house, itself, was welcoming her back to it’s domain.

Rachael was 2 years older than Kate, and she shared the same pep that Kate did; only, she chose another way to exhibit it. If there was a peace child in this generation, she was it…her and her friends. She was in the arts, most of the time. However, behind her wavy, wind-swept hair and sunglasses was a very smart mind, and behind the peace symbol necklace a heart for change. Kate liked that about her.

“Hey, cuz. Long time, no see. How is time in the REAL world?”

“I’d REALLY not like to talk about it,” Kate said with a smile.

“Ha. I don’t blame you. Oh … I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet,” Rachael said, taking her hand and leading to her friends. Kate knew right away what was happening, because Rachael had a habit of trying to set someone up. This was undoubtedly someone she felt was ‘perfect’ for her, as she often said. “Kate, meet Ben.”

Kate’s walk forward slowed and stopped in front of a character straight out of the romance novels that she had in her room, having been freed from her parent’s watchful eyes. She wondered if it was the ray of sunshine on her making her feel so hot … or the ray of sexy standing in front of her. Ben was fit … not like the muscle bound hunks she would see around the college gym but in a confident kind of way, as the light cotton, laced up shirt held close to his body but left a little to her very naughty imagination.

“Well, hello,” Ben said taking her hand and kissing it in a very old fashioned kind of way. The heat Kate was feeling engulfed her body and igniting her soul, and she felt so weak in the knees that she thought she might fall over. “Rachael has said a lot about you.”

Kate glanced over at Rachael, who has laying against her boyfriend and smiling with a ‘you’re WELCOME’ look on her face.

“Oh? Good things, I hope.”

“VERY good things,” Ben said and smiled. Kate got lost in that smile, and she found herself dazed as she stared in his eyes. What was it she was doing, here? Who was she, again?

“Why don’t you guys go for a walk and talk for a bit. I still want to catch up with MY man,” Rachael said to the newly introduced couple in her mission outreach project for the romantically lost and alone.

With a quick thought to how alone she had been even when she was WITH Mr. I Spy On YOU in Diatria, a walk sounded like a very good idea.


--


Kate and Ben began their walk along the fence in the huge field behind her aunt and uncle’s house. The field stretched out for several football fields, overlooking a few ponds and the large round hay bails collected for the farm animals. The sun was just setting over the nearest pond, making it all the more magical of a trip.

“How did you know my grandmother,” Kate asked Ben, while watching the breeze blow whispers in the brown shoots that rose from the green grass as they began strolling down the fence line.

“Veronica? She was an amazing woman. I did a few odd jobs for her, here and there. I really admired her spirit.

Her grandmother definitely had spirit, but Kate had to wonder as she looked at Ben if she really needed the help or just liked LOOKING at the help. That would be more her grandmother’s style.

“Like what?” Kate inquired.

“Like … chopping firewood, gardening.. stuff like that.”

Kate smiled. She was DEFINITELY just liking looking at the help. Her grandmother didn’t need help with any of that, and Kate found herself distracted by thoughts of Ben with his shirt off chopping wood or bent over doing gardening. She was so hot she was sweating, and she knew this time it wasn’t the sun. Realizing she had not spoken in a few minutes, she shook it off to continue the conversation.

“So, what do you do,” Kate asked Ben facing him, giving her another chance to look in his eyes.

“I do a lot of things; but, if you are asking what I make money doing, that would be painting, mostly.”

“Oh, like art?” Kate began to assume that this was another artist, like her cousin, trying to make a living on it. She respected that, but it was quite a risk.

“Ha … no. I wish. I am not that great with a small brush. I paint mainly houses. That is how I met Rachael. A few years ago, I was painting her house, and she started hanging out with me and Geoff, my co-worker. She is dating him, and I am…well..”

“Date pimping material? Ha” Kate couldn’t exist.

Ben smiled and laughed. “I guess so. But, what about you? She only said that under all the seriousness, you were as passionate as she is.”

“Unfortunately, that is true” Kate said with a frown and a glance to the ground.

“What do you mean, ‘Unfortunately?’”

“Well, let’s just say not everyone likes it when I am passionate, especially when it rains on their parade. I thought working there would be a great way to make my mark and feel like I was making a difference. However, I’m finding no one is looking out for me but me, anymore.”

Ben looked away toward the sunset over the water, while opening a pecan he found on the ground as a snack.

“Well, sometimes you just have to make your own parade happen, if you know you deserve it ... wherever you have to go. Somewhere, there is someone that LIKES that kind of passion.”

Could Ben BE yummier, Kate wondered.

“Yeah, I guess so. I have been thinking of making a few changes, and somewhere knew with people that respect me might be just what I need.”

“Where would you go,” she heard Ben ask in a hopeful tone.

“I don’t know … maybe somewhere like this. I am really like what I see out here.”

Looking over at Ben, her insides lit up as he smiled to hear her say that

“Me too,” he said.

Kate was feeling so comfortable with this man. It was like she had known him forever, even though they had just met. She always felt that she was really good at sizing up people, and his eyes were so simple and compassionate and real. It was refreshing from all the Diatria drama, and it was all the things she had wish Michael to be but never was.

She wondered if it was it even right to expect someone else to become what she needed them to be, if that was not who they were? Maybe the fault had been partially hers for expecting anything else from Michael. They had spent years, together, and going out with him was as personal as putting on a piece of clothing that she could take off. Shouldn’t it be more meaningful than that? Shouldn’t she feel bad that it was over? Maybe, it had been over for a really long time.

Kate knew what she had to do, regardless of whether Michael was really a spy or just a distant man who only wanted romance if it got him into bed with her. It was time that that ended, especially if there were guys like this out there. Indeed, maybe it WAS time for her own parade.

“You know, when I was a kid, I liked to get up on the hay bails and jump from one to another,” Kate said with a smile as she looked at the bails lined up on the fence line.

“You don’t have to be a kid to do that,” Ben said, and he started running toward the nearest bail. As he climbed to the top, he motioned Kate to join him. “Come on. Be a kid, just for today.”

Kate couldn’t believe he was doing that, but maybe she just needed to forget being a ‘professional’ girl and just be a girl, playing on hay bails away from everything. After all, who would see her?

She ran toward the hay bail and climbed up to the top and shouted, “RACE TO THE END,” and began jumping from one to another, startled Ben turning and beginning to catch up.

“You’re good at this,” he said.


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