The winds finally died down about noon and we headed out to tally the damage. I went to the greenhouses first but they'd survived pretty well. Some missing panes of glass and a whole tray of seedlings that got squashed under them when they fell were all I'd have to replace. So I jogged on to the garden, stopping here and there to clear tree limbs from the paths. The palms that gave the island its name had shed their weak limbs but the others had bent before the storm and were even now straightening up.
I stopped at the side of the largest and oldest tree on the island. Jonny and I had named him Galileo for our favorite astronomer. "Hey, Leo, how did you fare in this big wind?" I patted his trunk and took a slow turn around him to make sure that nothing had pierced him. If that happens, infection can enter and take a tree down from the inside.
But he looked good and I caressed his bark while I sent my thoughts delving deep into his roots and soaring up into his palm fronds. For some reason I'd always been good with growing things, I remember my mother telling me when I was a very little boy that all creatures needed to be loved, whether they moved or stayed stationary. Stepping back I looked up and smiled.
He'd be fine, now I needed to see what was left of my garden. I was jogging when I turned the corner and saw the damage. For just a moment, I couldn't breathe. Fronds from the overhanging trees had been stripped off and dumped on the new seedlings. Slowing, I stopped dead at the edge of what had been a thriving test bed. Some of them were gone forever, others would perk up once they got uncovered and had a good drink of water.
"I'm s-sorry that it's s-such a mess. May I . . . help with the cleanup?" The voice came from over my shoulder and poured over my senses like honey.
I turned slowly and saw him for the first time in daylight. His hair reminded me of the actor who played Harry Potter, black and messy. What little I could see of his eyes through the thick lenses reminded me of moonlight. He was standing still but the longer I didn't say anything, the more rigid he became.
"Dr. Alexander, it's nice to meet you. I'll be selfish and accept your offer." I moved my eyes back to the garden. "I'm going to need all the help I can get. Let's start by removing the palms so we can see the full extent of the damage."
He nodded and bent to pick up the nearest one.
********* Alex *********
I was shaking, I was so nervous but the young botanist was concentrating on his test beds so I eventually calmed down enough to stop stuttering. Of course, I didn't say anything else, just kept picking up the downed fronds and moving them to the growing pile. I could see that some of the seedlings were toast but others reminded me of the way the ionoptera had looked right after he'd transplanted them.
Hopefully, that meant that they would survive. My hands had never been so dirty and I felt rather proud of that. Small cuts from the surprisingly sharp edges of the palms were starting to appear on my hands but I was determined to ignore them until the entire plot was cleared. I may not be much good with plants but it felt good to be doing something to help out this young man.
I'd come out into the light of day and nothing bad had happened. Flashing dark eyes had looked at me and accepted me at face value. That was exhilarating and I felt like humming or something to celebrate but I was afraid of making a misstep. The rows were close together and I didn't want to annihilate a seedling by my clumsiness. An hour passed and we finally stood by a shoulder high pile of fronds.
"It could have been worse," Hadji said pensively and sighed. "I lost a flat of seedlings in the greenhouse and about a fourth of these are gone. I have my work cut out for me." His eyes came to mine and I realized that he was exactly my height. "Thank you, Dr. Alexander, it was good of you to help."
I wanted to blush but I just nodded instead. "I . . . you're welcome. What do you do now?"
He smiled, his white teeth flashing in the sunlight. "I'll start with some water to see what will perk up and to wash away the salt layer from the cove spray whipped up by the wind. Then I'll take some of the seedlings from the greenhouse to replace these and start new ones for there. The nice thing about Mother Nature is that she always allows you a second chance."
Second chances, I knew about although this life was my third. "If there is anything else I can help with, please ask me."
He grinned again and held out his hand. I took it gingerly but all he did was shake once and then let go. "You need to wash those cuts and put some Neosporin on them so they'll heal. Palms look frothy but have sharp edges. Have you got some in the lab?"
I nodded. "I'll leave you to it, then."
He chuckled, although I could see his attention had gone back to the garden. "See you later, Dr. Alexander."
********* Sandy *********
By the time that Jonny and I worked our way around to Dolphin Bay, Hadji had already cleared the entire garden. When Jonny teased him about his super speed, Hadj' grinned and told us he'd had a helper. Alex had actually come out and introduced himself then done manual labor. Jonny would have made a smart comment but I elbowed him sharply.
The rest of the day passed in cleanup and the dune buggies hauled all the debris to the central complex where it was sorted into piles. We recycle everything on the island down to the coffee grinds from the kitchen. All the tree waste went into the chipper to be irradiated and spread on the grounds, although some of it went to feed the compost piles behind the greenhouses.
Dr. Quest had asked Alex to join us for dinner but he declined. I think it took all his courage to meet Hadji so I wasn't too surprised. We were one tired group of people when we sat on the patio with our dessert. For the next few days, we'd mount a beach patrol to keep them clean. After a blow like that, the oddest things got kicked up from the ocean floor and deposited on the nearest land surface.
Jonny walked me to my suite and leaned against the doorway. "You like this Dr. Alexander, don't you?"
"I do, Jonny." I paused, half in and half out of my room. "He's touchingly vulnerable right now. Something or someone hurt him badly and he's not over it yet." I smiled at the memory of the shy man. "I think that making that first step to help Hadji today means that he's coming out of his shell."
"Kind of a hermit crab is he?" Jonny joked but with a soft look in his eyes. "Not playing on your sympathy, Sandy?"
I stuck my tongue out at him. "I don't think he knows how to play. All he ever does is work, work, work. Even on Sundays, his reports come like clockwork. I'm kind of hoping that Hadji will coax him out of his safe refuge and get him to relax a little."
"Are you matchmaking, Sandy?" He tweaked my nose.
Placing a hand on my chest, I gave him my very best innocent look. "Moi? I think you have me confused with someone else."
And suddenly his eyes were like blue coals, warming me with their heat. "No, I know exactly who you are, Sandra Dee Goodall." He leaned in and brushed a kiss over my cheek. "Sweet dreams."
I almost melted into a little heap right there but he just turned and left me quivering. God, I love my life some days.
********* Benton *********
As storms went, it hadn't done too much damage. When Hadji told me that Alex had helped him with the garden, I was a bit surprised but very glad to see the young man make an effort to come out from his lab. A month passed and Alex made two appearances, both times in Hadji's garden. Sandy had a rather smug look on her face when ever I saw her.
Did I think that Hadji would be good for Alex? Yes, I did but with reservations. Alex's private life up to now had not been the best. If half the stories were true then he'd been an indiscriminant lover and I did worry that there might be physical remnants that might come back to haunt him. However, Alex must have felt my concern because a medical report appeared on my computer shortly after his second appearance.
It was fascinating reading and my heart broke when I read of the number of scars, breaks and burns he bore. But even more interesting was the state of his immune system. It was the closest thing to perfection that I'd ever seen. He'd been a sickly child but once the meteor shower hit Kansas, his immune system cleared out all infections and kept him healthy.
"What has you so serious, Benton?" Strong arms hugged me close and warm lips ghosted over the back of my neck.
"Race," I shivered and pulled his arms closer around me. "Just thinking about Alex and his health and what they might mean to Hadji."
He chuckled and bit my ear lobe. "If Hadj' wears his shorts any tighter, he's going to do himself a mischief." Big hands stroked down towards my stomach and I felt myself begin to harden. "I think he's gently having fun with Alex. Poor Alex doesn't stand a chance of resisting a man who's decided what he wants."
"Or who he wants?" I slowly turned in his arms and took those thin lips with mine. He'd been snacking on guavas and I scoured every hint of it from his tasty mouth. We feasted for long moments before breaking apart. "I think a little afternoon snack is just what we need right now."
He chuckled and moved away slowly while I followed as if invisible strings held us together. Sandy and Jonny laughed at us when we tried to sneak by them but they shooed us away with smiles and promises to watch the data feed from the orbiting satellite that monitored our solar panel test sites. It was good to finally have Jonny here and interested in our experiments.
Oh, I knew he'd have his own ideas but for now, he seemed content to help out with the science on which I'd spent the last five years. One of these days perhaps I'd retire and just keep my hand in occasionally. But not just yet.
********* Hadji *********
I approached my garden with anticipation. Alex had begun to appear every other day and this was his designated morning. We'd greet each other and he'd help me for about a half an hour before he disappeared into lab 3 for the rest of the day. I'd started to bring a little extra something extra to tempt him into staying a little longer. Today it was peach schnitzel that Lazlo had baked just for Alex.
Whistling a little, I rounded the bend in the path and caught sight of my new friend. I wasn't sure if he thought of me as a friend yet but he would soon. I could see his aura shading into gray instead of the black he'd sported when I met him but even more encouraging were the patches of verdant green near his heart. That was a hopeful sign that had taken me almost three months to nurture.
He was looking out to sea and I caught that hint of melancholy surrounding him. He'd been fine on Monday so I wondered if he'd gotten a bad email. I was still surprised that the only snail mail he got was packages from different online stores. I'd never met someone so alone before and he tugged at my heartstrings the way that no one ever had.
"Good morning, Hadji," he turned and the little smile that passed for a grin flitted across his face. "Something smells wonderful. Did Lazlo bake something special?"
"Just for us, Alex, he made schnitzel." I said while wiggling my eyebrows. He liked it when I did that and I enjoyed making him smile. Somewhere along the line, I'd fallen a little bit in lust. It might be more someday but for now, it was just a little tingle that I wanted itched.
He chuckled and joined me on the bench that Race had made for us. In his spare time, my step-father enjoyed working with stone so that's what our bench was made of. He'd set it in the shade of the big banana tree so we could use the massive trunk for a back rest. Alex was dressed in his normal long sleeved white silk shirt and light khaki pants. I could not get him to wear a pair of shorts, no matter what I said.
I don't think he realized it yet but I was determined to get him to loosen up. Getting him naked was quite a way down my list and looked to remain that way since the most I could get him to do was roll up his sleeves. I'd noticed that his fore arms had no hair at all and I thought that odd since he had so much hair on his head.
That little moan he gave when he first bit into one of Lazlo's treats usually made me shiver and today was no exception. Schnitzel is crumbly and there is no way that you can eat it neatly, just no way at all. Alex didn't seem to realize that so the look of surprise on his face when he felt some cascade down his chin was priceless. I quick reached over to brush it gently off his shirt and he froze in mid-bite.
Our eyes met and I was so close to leaning over to clean his skin with my tongue that I could practically taste it when a loud chattering sound echoed up from the water and brought both our eyes to the dolphins that had just swum in. By the look of awe on Alex's face, I was pretty sure that he'd never seen live dolphins up close and personal.
********* Alex *********
On the nights I couldn't sleep, I'd walk the beaches or swim right here in the cove. So I'd heard the sounds that dolphins make but I'd never really seen them before. My nerves were already zinging out of control after Hadji's touch so I was a little jumpy all ready when he pulled me up and down to the water's edge. He waded on in until he was in waist deep then he stopped and started to hum.
It was a soothing hum, something that made me relax and follow him into the water even though I was fully dressed. I didn't dare take his suggestions about lightening up on my clothing since I have no hair anywhere and he'd soon begin to wonder about my wig. I didn't know if I was ready for him to see the real me, although I would love to go without the itchy thing now that the weather was turning sultry.
I was bumped out of my thoughts when the bottle-nosed dolphin in front of us slid suggestively into my crotch. I was too surprised to do more than stay upright while he or she teased me with a little chatter and another caress. Hadji was laughing and that is such a joyful sound that I had to smile.
"Looks like you've made a conquest, Alex," he held out his hand and the second dolphin nosed him with a look that could only be termed 'flirty'. "She's got good taste."
And his sideways look mirrored the dolphin's. I literally didn't know what to say or even if I could get my paralyzed vocal chords to work at all. But with a supreme effort, I managed. "So does he."
He lit up all over. Hadji Quest looked at me with a sultry smile that was hotter than the air surrounding us. Why didn't the water boil around us? My tiny little lean towards him was interrupted by another nose to my crotch and I gratefully held out my hands the way that he had so she had something to smell.
"Do dolphins have scent glands? Do they smell with that nose?" It was inane, I know but it was all I could manage.
"Nope, they have no sense of smell." He was stroking the bottlenose of the dolphin in front of him. "Keen sight and highly developed hearing make up for that missing sense."
I mimicked his motion and the female did her version of a purr only in clicks. Her skin was smooth and a little rubbery under my fingers and I wondered what my hands felt like to her. "How can you tell this one is a she?"
"She's pregnant. See the swell about four feet back." Hadji's hand made a rolling gesture and the female whistled and rolled as if on command. "She's pretty far along. One of the reasons we call this inlet Dolphin Bay is because several pods like to come here and give birth. There should be a couple more arriving shortly. This pair is usually first to come home."
********* Ranua *********
I recognized the golden-skinned male. The one in front of me was new and I tasted sadness from him, also interest in the other male. My tongue came out to test the waters again. Hm-m-m, the interest was mutual. Perhaps this warm-time would be a fertile time for them, I clicked to my mate, Porquin.
He whistled back that we might have to help them.
The sorrow was still there, even though Sad-one was smiling at me and stroking that scratchy spot between my eyes. Maybe mating would take the sadness away, I thought and asked for help from my mate. He agreed and we swam around them twice before butting them together.
They shouted and tangled together with their strange long flippers clutching at each other. Porquin whistled and I followed him out the inlet so they could mate in privacy. Perhaps they could start a family, too. It would be nice for my child to have a human to play with. They were so much fun or at least Golden-skin had been not that many warm-times ago.
And a baby human would make Sad-one happy. That's just what babies did. My child moved within me and I surrounded him with love and warm thoughts. It was very near my time. Several dark times should bring me back to our protected space so little Jeruba could be born.
Perhaps the humans would still be mating?
The end of part three