Leonis, 1:1, 2:11 - Part V - Strawberries And Surprises

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12:35 PM

As they drove in through the front gates, Parker found himself amazed at the size of the old woman's farm. Dozens of workers with bags slung over their shoulders were sprinkled sporadically between rows and rows of what appeared to be strawberry plants. They bobbed up and down like antique toy drinking birds.

Parker grinned, thinking of the one his mother kept on a shelf above their console television set when he was younger. She told him it was a souvenir from a road trip she and Parker's grandfather took when she was a little girl. The strange plastic contraption always reminded Parker of the few lucid, fun times he remembered with his mother before she changed...before everything changed. "Such a funny thing, how the mind works," he considered. 

Parker sighed and continued to gaze lazily over the people in the fields of green they were passing. He remembered how he excitedly watched his mother retrieve the plastic trinket from its perch and set it in front of him on the white Formica dining table. With his small legs dangling, she would place a cup of water next to the artificial bird and then tap its head. Parker would giggle at the tiny colorful creature as it bobbed forward, dipping its beak in the liquid, and then righted itself. Over and over it would go, generating laugh after laugh. The more Parker would chuckle, the more his mother would join the chorus. Then it was over, that beautiful, joyous symphony now only some bittersweet memory never to be experienced again...

"Parker, are you coming?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sorry Mrs. Childers. I was lost in my head a bit," Parker replied from the backseat of the now stationary car. He wiped a tear away from the edge of his eye. Parker suddenly noticed Terrence was eying him as he held open the passenger car door. "What?"

"Nothing, I guess." Terrence shook his head and turned to follow the old woman toward a white house encircled by a wrap-around porch.

"Stupid  plastic bird..."

<<*>>

The repetitive squeal of a windmill in the front yard accompanied Parker through the front door of the quaint home. It was quickly followed by the bang of a screen door behind him.

"Mother, I was worried! What took you so long!?!! It's past lunch time!"

Parker, Keane, and the old woman turned.

"I had car problems, sweets. These two gentlemen rescued me, you could say."

"Oh, well thank you both so very much, then," said a young woman in her early twenties. Parker noted the attractive woman was very tan, evidently from working out in the fields. "About lunch, mother?"

"Yes, you are right, come along, dearie," Mrs. Childers said as she disappeared down a hall, its walls lined with framed black and white photos.

"Yes, ma'am," the woman said, lowering her face shyly as she walked by Parker and Terrence. She lifted her eyes up at Parker as she passed.

Parker nodded in acknowledgment. "Ma'am."

"Come on boys! Belinda will show you to the kitchen!"

"I think she likes you, Parker," Terrence said under his breath and poked Parker in the ribs with an elbow.

"Not on this trip," Parker replied. "It's probably more likely that I look like her brother. At least that's what Mrs. Childers indicated back at the train station."

"Brother, huh?" Keane clicked his tongue on his teeth. "Ah, but I'm guessing from your tone, you've had your heart broken a time or two recently?"

Parker didn't know what to make of this man. He didn't act like a killer, much less a soldier. He shrugged. "You could say that. C'mon, let's follow her. I could use a glass of water."

Keane lifted his eyebrows and leaned in toward Parker. "Water isn't what I was thinking about takin' a sip of, you know? I could actually use somethin' with a bit more sting."

Parker couldn't help but laugh at Terrence's quips. How in the world could this man possibly be any sort of assassin?

In the kitchen, Mrs. Childers was donning a white apron. "Belinda is my youngest child, gentlemen...and my prettiest."

The girl smiled sheepishly and began buzzing about collecting things from around the kitchen.

"Belinda, doesn't Parker look like a tad like Benjamin?"

The girl paused to look at Parker for a second, and then returned to her duties. "That he does, mother," she replied. "The workers will be returning from the fields for lunch, soon."

"Yes, yes, you are quite right, sweetie." The old woman looked over at Parker and Terrence. "Would you two manly-men be kind enough to grab those plates and cups and follow me?"

"Yes, ma'am," Parker acknowledged and grabbed a stack of white ceramic plates from the nearby kitchen table.

  <<*>>  

With several dull, metallic dings, Keane scooped up an armful of metal cups as requested and fell in line behind Parker. He nodded toward Belinda as he passed, but his polite smile quickly dissipated as he noticed all expression fade from the pretty woman's face. He wasn't sure before, but now he knew without a doubt. Keane had seen such deathly empty expressions many times before, but not on this world...this was a first here. That meant things had been put into motion many shifts back and were close. Dangerously close.

Terrence was now very aware of where he was...of what this place was. The metal cups began to clank rapidly once more in his hands as he exited the kitchen. As far as Parker was concerned, if he was what the Emperor said he was, and regardless of Keane's growing fondness for the young man, Parker would be lucky to make it through the night with his freedom.

Keane supposed it should not matter his feelings on the subject anyways...if not today or tomorrow, even some point in the future...or past, everyone was going to join in servitude to the Geniel Empire, even the famous Parker Raymond...

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