The White Goddess

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Comfort Food


“Don’t forget your hat. And that chapstick you got with the sunscreen. And regular suncreen, of course.” Bonnie tsked at the plastic containers she’d just stacked in the cooler and took them out again. “Damn it,” she muttered under her breath.

“’Kay.” Serafina nodded agreeably over a mouthful of oatmeal. Ian made fun of her for liking it but Bonnie put in berries and vanilla sugar. It was good. Comfort food. Serafina had never understood that term before they moved in with Bonnie and Abel.

Bonnie straightened and stared down at the cooler she’d just packed for the second time. “Tuna salad, ham salad, pasta salad, potato salad, cucumber salad, grapes...” She ticked them off her fingers. “Watermelon’s in the bag.” Bonnie glanced at the plastic shopping bag on the table.

“What?” Serafina joked. “No fried chicken?” You’d think they were going into space instead of the local high school to watch football tryouts.

“Kelly’s bringing it,” Bonnie said, straightfaced.

“Bonnie!” Abel hollered from the bedroom at the back of the trailer. “Where’s my lucky belt?”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “Same place it always is.”

“I wouldn’t be asking if it was, now would I?”

“Probably,” Bonnie muttered, stuffing a roll of paper towel into the bag with the watermelon. She pitched her voice louder. “Did you check the shorts you wore yesterday?”

“I didn’t wear my lucky belt yesterday.” Abel was getting annoyed.

So was Bonnie. “Look on the floor of the closet then.”

“It’s not there. Bonnie!” Abel’s voice rose when she didn’t reply. “I need my damn belt!”

“I swear, it’s a good thing we don’t live a mansion,” Bonnie grumbled.

Serafina giggled at her expression as she stomped off to help her husband of thirty-two years find his lucky belt. According to Bonnie, the most superstitious men alive were athletes and military men, and Abel was both. He’d played football first in college, then for the Navy before he transferred to the Marines.

“You ready to go, girl?” Abel bellowed from the bedroom now.

“Just about!” Serafina gulped the rest of her oatmeal down in a few oversized mouthfuls and quickly washed her empty bowl in the sink. A relatively new skill along with doing laundry and changing lightbulbs and batteries. Serafina hadn’t realized how spoiled she was until they got to Mountain View. Or how deprived.

She could hear Bonnie and Abel bickering as she slipped into her tiny bedroom and slid the door closed. The bed was neatly made—another new habit—with the lavender and teal bedspread and matching pillows cases Bonnie let her pick out at Walmart along with a reading light shaped like an owl and a poster of two wolves beside a forest stream that always reminded Serafina of the crown King had made for her.

Swallowing against a wave of sadness, Serafina pushed aside the sudden rush of memories. She tried not think about King if she could help it. It hurt too much.

It was still hard to wrap her brain around sometimes. How the person she’d once loved second only to Ian had suddenly become the person she was most afraid of. The stupidest part was, even after everything she still missed him. She’d never felt more like an orphan than after losing King, not even after her mother died.

Of course he would say she was the one who was lost, but that wasn’t how it felt to Serafina. King had acted like he cared about her. Her, Serafina, the person. Like he wanted her to be happy. But in the end King was just like the Elders, trying to control her, ordering her life to suit himself and his goals. Whatever those were. Ian and Serafina still hadn’t figured that out.

The King she’d grown up with, the King who’d teased her and bought her presents and dozed off in the shade watching her sketch on the beach, had disappeared the night of her birthday. Sometimes Serafina wondered if he’d ever existed at all.

“I said fine!” Abel thundered through the flimsy walls.

It made Serafina jump and scramble into motion. Abel would be walking out of the room any minute now. He was very big on punctuality. Abel wouldn’t be mad if Serafina wasn’t ready on time, but he’d be disappointed. Somehow that was worse.

The tiny room was literally the size of her closet back home, but unlike her old bedroom closet at the Church, Serafina had approved everything inside it for herself. Bonnie had taken her and Ian to an outlet mall last week for back-to-school shopping, which was apparently a whole thing in the real world.

The stores had been packed and Bonnie spent a small fortune outfitting them for the fall. Ian had been bored and grouchy pretty much the second they walked in so they shopped for him first, then sent him to the food court while Bonnie and Serafina went to the girl stores alone.

The next few hours had been like a TV show. Serafina even remembered it in monatges: Bonnie piling her ‘suggestions’ into her arms as she moved down the racks, Bonnie oohing and ahhing at everything Serafina tried on, even jeans and t-shirts that were nothing special. Wardrobe staples, Bonnie called them. Serafina just called them clothes.

Back when she used to dream about freedom, Serafina always imagined herself choosing bright colours and trendy, flashy styles. Basically the opposite of her white on white (with the occasional off-white and pale beige), old-fashioned wardrobe at the Church.

As it turned out though, once Serafina actually did have a choice she found herself sticking to white. Not all white—even she was socially savvy enough to know that was weird—but a lot of it. She felt more comfortable in pale shades, especially white and gold, something she hadn’t realized before they met Bonnie and Abel. Serafina always thought the clothes she’d been wearing on the road with Ian felt wrong on her because they were stolen.

Serafina pulled on a pair of light blue cut-offs Kelly handed down to her. They were real vintage from the ’Nineties. Apparently Mason’s mom used to be really skinny. She was pulling a t-shirt over her head when the door knocked.

“Come in,” she called, knowing it was Bonnie. Abel didn’t knock. He banged.

“Hey, sweetie.” Bonnie opened the door but didn’t step in. “Who’s Javier Byrd?” she asked, squinting at the stylized name on the front of Serafina’s shirt. “I don’t remember buying that.”

“Ian got it for me.” Serafina ran her hand over the fabric fondly. “He’s a famous musician I met once.” She didn’t tell Bonnie that she cured his cancer, or that he’d given her the rainbow unicorn Serafina still slept with every night. Ian had traded a girl at the Mountain View campsite an eight-point deer for it.

“Really!” Bonnie looked impressed. “You have to tell me about that one day.” Her eyes went to the fancy orthopedic backpack she’d bought Serafina sitting on the bed. “You have a hat in there?”

Serafina rolled her eyes, secretly loving Bonnie’s fixation on her well-being. “Yes, and sunscreen, and the SPF chapstick, and the pads you gave me in case my uterine lining decides to start spontaneously shedding.” She hadn’t gotten her period yet, or even known about periods until Bonnie explained it to her. The way Trinity and her friends talked about it, she could literally start gushing blood down there at any time.

Bonnie snorted a laugh. “Okay, good. Abel’s finally managed to get himself dressed. I’m just going to finish packing the cooler and we’re ready to head out.”

Their bedroom door slid open and Abel’s heavy footsteps sounded behind her. “You haven’t packed the cooler yet?”

“Don’t you dare start,” Bonnie warned him. She bustled away, leaving Abel in the hall facing the open doorway.

Serafina glanced at him as she slid her sketchbook into the backpack with a couple of pencils. “What?”

Abel hesitated. “Ian mentioned you like to paint.”

“I do.” Serafina did a quick inventory of her backpack and zipped it up. “I used to paint a lot back—” Something stopped her from using the word ‘home’. “When we lived in California.”

“That’s what he said. How come you never asked for paints when we picked up the notebook and such?” Abel tipped his chin towards her backpack.

Serafina shrugged. “Painting’s expensive,” she admitted. She’d been shocked at the art store by the prices of high quality oil paints, never mind the canvasses. Serafina’s paintings were big. And she’d need brushes, and a palette, and an easel. She felt guilty enough about letting them buy her sketchbooks and pencils.

“All right, well.” Abel nodded like he’d made up his mind about something. “Christmas is right around the corner.”

It wasn’t really. It was only the middle of August. But Serafina’s heart soared as she picked up her bag and followed Abel into the main room. Not only because it looked like she was getting painting supplies for Christmas but at the idea of having a Christmas at all.

“How far do you think we’re going, woman?” Abel demanded when he saw how much food Bonnie had packed.

“Oh please.” Bonnie rolled her eyes. “You always say that and then you all eat everything.”

“We eat it so it won’t go to waste.”

“Really? Is that why you drink all the beer, too?”

Serafina left them to their bickering. Outside, the morning sun was bright and the sky was a perfect blue with only a few fat clouds hovering over the rugged mountain peaks in the distance.

“Hey there,” she greeted a couple of squirrels. They chattered a reply and followed her to the front of the trailer where the white Durango was parked next to Abel’s pickup. Abel had traded the camper van in for the seven-seater SUV so they could carpool with Kelly when school started. Serafina and Ian had protested but Abel made a joke about being a family man now and it being time for him to settle down.

Serafina smiled at the memory as she lifted the hatch and tossed her backpack over onto the last row of seats. It was still hard to believe this was their real life sometimes. A flurry of chirping and fluttering leaves drew her eyes to the lower branches of the tree next to the driveway. Three small brown birds stared back at her. She waved at them.

“Don’t crap on Abel’s truck while we’re gone,” Serafina teased, giggling when they chirped in protest. Protest that she thought they would do such a thing, or protest not being able to crap on the truck, Serafina had no idea.

A shout made her head turn. “And Romero has the ball!”

Connor burst out of his family’s trailer with a giant plastic tub under his arm and dashed across the narrow road, Mason on his heels. Kelly, their mom, brought up the rear at a normal human being’s pace.

The boys ran right past Serafina and across Bonnie and Abel’s lawn to the short fence that separated their yard from the lot backing onto theirs. Connor tripped a little and Mason briefly pulled ahead, but Connor was bigger and taller and easily made up the distance to reach the fence first.

“Touchdown!” Connor raised the plastic tub over his head in triumph.

“If you throw that on the ground, Connor Romero, I swear...” Kelly’s voice carried impressively over the lawn. “Oh hey there, sweetie,” she greeted Serafina in her normal friendly tone. “You look real cute in those shorts.”

“Thanks. I really like them.”

“I was a size five when I married the boys’ father,” Kelly chatted as they walked up the driveway to the side of the house. “I know, I know, I’m not fat now, but your body changes after you have kids, and there’s nothing any diet or exercise plan can do about that.”

“Mm-hm.” Serafina nodded politely, glad to see the boys on the patio and Bonnie stepping out of the door. Kelly was nice but Serafina really didn’t care what size she used to be or what having kids did to your hips and boobs. Serafina didn’t even know if she was going to have kids but if she did, it wouldn’t be for a very, very, very long time.

“Hey Sarah.” Mason flashed her a smile. He looked cute in a blue Buffaloes t-shirt and messy morning hair.

Tryouts didn’t start until eleven but Abel wanted to leave by seven to account for the detour he insisted on making on the way. An old army buddy of his in Lakeside had borrowed Abel’s favourite power drill last month and never returned it. Abel had driven over there twice to get it back but his buddy hadn’t been home either time. Apparently the buddy was a ‘lazy bastard’ who would definitely still be in bed at eight a.m.

When Bonnie protested dragging all of them along on his ‘ridiculous mission’, Abel informed her that with all the accessories his drill was worth over three hundred dollars. She’d immediately stopped objecting.

“Hi Mason. Hi, Connor.” Serafina took the bag with the watermelon from Bonnie’s hand and gestured for Connor to follow her to the Durango.

“You can’t leave the hatch open like that, you’ll kill the battery,” Connor informed her knowledgably. He took the bag from Serafina’s hand and put it in the trunk with the tub of fried chicken. The tree beside them exploded with panicking birds as he slammed the hatchback closed with a bang.

The boys laughed.

“Hey, why’d you close that?” Abel strode towards them, staggering under the weight of the cooler.

It was Serafina’s turn to laugh as Connor rushed to get the hatchback open before Abel got to the truck. That’s what you get for scaring the birds, jerk.

Connor wasn’t really a jerk, but Serafina’s relationship with birds and animals made her as aware of their feelings as people’s. Probably more, since she still didn’t have much experience with people.

“You couldn’t wait five minutes and let me carry that?” Ian appeared from around the corner of the house, wiping his face with his t-shirt before pulling it on. The set of his shoulders and tell-tale glitter in his eyes told Serafina he wasn’t just coming off a ten-minute jog from the campsite. Ian had let his wolf out for a run.

“I didn’t know when you were going to show up,” Abel drawled, watching Ian approach.

Ian scoffed. “What time is it?”

Conner pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Six-fifty-two.”

Abel snorted and turned to close the hatchback. “On time is too late.”

“Anything else left to bring out?” Ian asked Abel. He hooked a sweaty arm around Serafina’s neck and squeezed before she managed to squirm away. Gross.

Abel was already heading back to the house. “Knowing your grandmother—?” There was a brief hitch in his step as he broke off, then resumed without correcting himself. “—I’m going to say yes.”

Serafina turned to Ian with wide eyes. He called her our grandmother.

Ian reached for her again, looping his arm around her shoulders. Serafina didn’t try to get away this time. She feels kind of like our grandmother, doesn’t she.

Thinking of the way Bonnie hummed happily as she prepared her oatmeal this morning, Serafina nodded. Ian gave her a final squeeze and dropped his arm.

“You ready to kick some ass, QB?” Ian asked Connor.

Connor’s chest puffed with pride. The local girls weren’t the only ones who looked at Ian with stars in their eyes. “You know it.”

Serafina managed to swallow the lump in her throat as the older boys walked ahead and Mason fell into step beside her.

Bonnie looked up from where she and Kelly were chatting by the door. “Where’s your hat?” she demanded as soon as she saw Ian.

“Leave the boy alone,” Abel boomed, directing Ian and Connor to the drinks cooler, which still needed carrying back to the truck.

Bonnie put her hands on her hips. “Leave him alone to get sunstroke?”

Ian waved Connor off and picked the heavy cooler up like it was nothing. Abel handed Connor his rifle and nodded for him to follow Ian with it to the truck. Abel never went anywhere unarmed.

“He’s going to be in a helmet most of the day.” Abel snorted. “We aren’t going sightseeing.”

Ian winked at Serafina as he passed. Told you we’d have a family someday.



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