Part Twenty-Two: Archivist
In the Pacific Northwest, they ran into rain, so Uncle Al proposed whiling away the morning in a big city bookstore with a coffee shop. Marcus let Ransom take the lead, preferring to learn more about his friend’s tastes than revealing his own. Not that he learned a whole lot. Only that Ransom’s got a tenacious streak. I’m surprised he hasn’t given up yet.
“Uhh … Alaric?”
Uncle Al favored Ransom with a bemused smile. “Do you plan to read the entire book to me, Mr. Pavlos?”
Ransom’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that evasion? Did I get it? Your name’s Alaric?”
“No, I am not and never have been designated Alaric.” He strolled into the travel section. “But you’re getting warmer. Alphabetically.”
With an eager light in his eyes, Ransom hefted the baby name book. “Alcott?”
Ransom turned a page. “Aldrich?”
Uncle Al chuckled. “Why not try Rumpelstiltskin while you’re at it?”
Marcus trailed after them, hands deep in his pockets as his attention drifted to the sorts of things humans couldn’t see. Like Ardon, who’d taken up a post near the children’s section, where he unobtrusively loomed over a pair of preschoolers turning pages in a Bible storybook.
“Aldrich? Alexio? Algernon?” Ransom blinked. “Do people actually name their kids Algernon?”
“And call them Algie for short,” Uncle Al said with a smile.
“Isn’t that like … pond scum?”
“I’m not sure you’re the best boy to quibble. What does Ransom mean?”
“Maybe you should check.”
Marcus eased closer and peered over his friend’s shoulder. “So are you in there?”
Ransom thumbed to the appropriate page. “Sure am. Let’s see … Ransom means ‘warrior’s shield.’”
“What about you?”
Marcus shrugged. “Look and see.”
Fanning back to the M section, Ransom found the entry and read, “Son of war; warrior. Plus, Marcus is linked to dedicated and faithful.” He grinned. “You’re the warrior, and I’m your shield.”
“Did you hear that, Uncle … Al?” Ransom went up on tiptoe, craning his neck as he searched the vicinity. “He won’t get away that easily!”
Three minutes and two floors later, they cornered Uncle Al in a section of cookbooks, which didn’t entirely distract Ransom from his appointed task.
“Not even close.”
At lunch, Daichi placed a leather-bound journal on the table before Ransom.
“For me?” he asked.
“Make a record of your travels,” he said. “One that will last.”
Ransom immediately turned to Marcus. “Want to share?”
No sooner had they finished eating and swept the table clean, then Ransom dipped into his personal archive. From the back pocket of his jeans, an inner pocket of his coat, and a zipped compartment of his backpack, he brought out folded placemats, creased programs, ticket stubs, a jumble of business cards from bakeries and diners across the country, notes scribbled on napkins, a crumpled collection of newspaper mastheads, and a handful of postcards he’d kept for souvenirs.
“Looks like the book’s a good idea,” said Marcus.
“Help me put my junk in order?”
If there were ever any doubts that Ransom had a highly organized mind, this project laid them to rest. During spare moments over the next week, he worked doggedly on their journal. Every rainy day and quiet evening had taken on new focus.
“Feels a whole lot like homework,” sighed Marcus, who thanked God that he wasn’t one of the adahim.
“Not to me. This is more interesting because it actually matters.” Ransom spared him a concerned glance. “Bored?”
Flopping onto his own bedroll, Marcus said, “Nope. Can I see?”
Ransom passed along the book, and Marcus paged back through their journey. The memories were fresh, vivid, and mostly legible. Marcus smiled at his best friend’s notations about everything from diner fare to Daichi’s “ninja moves.”
Finding a half-page gap near the front, he asked, “You saving this spot for something?”
Ransom leaned over. “Oh, that. Not sure. That was before I started keeping stuff, so there’s nothing to tape in.”
Marcus smirked. “I know what’d work.”
“Daichi, can you help?” Marcus held up the journal. “Ransom needs something to go on this page.”
The man rose smoothly to his feet. “Is that so?”
“Yeah, sure. That’d be great,” Ransom said, offering his pen.
“If I may?”
When Daichi returned the book a minute later, Ransom’s entry was illustrated with a sloping hillside, distant treeline, four bedrolls, and a night sky full of streaking stars.
“Two oceans and a gulf,” said Uncle Al. “As promised!”
“Can we camp here?” asked Ransom.
“I don’t see why not. So long as we choose wisely.” The man smirked. “There’s the tide to consider.”
So they watched the sun slide into the sea while blues deepened overhead. Daichi distributed food, and they ate in silence, as if no one wanted to interrupt the show.
Marcus stole a look at his best friend. Way different from shouting at television chefs. Ransom seemed to be paying attention, but Marcus had no way of knowing if he truly understood what he was seeing.
Hazy stars filled the sky before Daichi interrupted the silence. “Nature speaks, but it does not tell its own story.”
Ransom turned to look at the man.
“The mountains we have climbed, the land we have slept upon, the seas we have touched, the sun and stars that bear witness—they are neither accidental nor incidental.” Daichi calmly addressed Ransom. “And you are not here by accident.”
“Nope. I was invited.”
Daichi chuckled. “Yes. You were invited to travel with us for a season, and it is good. Just as God Most High invited the world to become, and it is good.”
“I dunno,” murmured Ransom. “Maybe.”
“This is good,” asserted Marcus.
“The best,” Ransom said with feeling. “So amazing, I sometimes wonder if I’m really here.”
“Yep, we are.”
His friend scooped up sand and let it trickle through his fingers. “This summer really happened?”
“Not sure I want to go back.”
“And why that?” asked Uncle Al.
It took Ransom a while to answer. “Nah, I take it back. The stuff I like best about this summer is stuff I can have at home. But there’s stuff at home I can’t have here.”
“Like Flopsy’s cooking?” Marcus asked with a smirk.
Daichi’s voice took on a lyrical quality. “It is said that those who wander learn to appreciate home, and when they return to it, they find the peace hinted at by calm seas and starry skies.”
“Did you just make that up?” Ransom asked.
After a couple of beats, Ransom muttered, “Well, don’t forget it. I want you to put that in my book.”
The next morning, Uncle Al announced, “We’ve dawdled in high style, but we’ve reached the end of scenic routes. Stretch your legs and fill your lungs with salt air. As of today, I’m taking you boys home.”
Marcus set an easy pace, and Ransom matched his rhythm.
“We took all summer to get this far,” said Ransom. “Hard to believe we’re only four days from home.”
Ransom lengthened his stride, and Marcus gamely kept up, splashing right through the swirling wash of lazy waves.
Marcus asked, “What do you miss most about home?”
“Familiar stuff. Like my job … and my bike … and buying up all the cupcakes in the bakery case … and school ….”
“And Miss Priss?”
Ransom rolled his eyes, but he didn’t deny it. “I guess she counts as something familiar. Next to you, she’s the person I look forward to seeing most.”
“Because you like tormenting her.”
“Is it that obvious?” Ransom laughed. “You think she’s guessed those postcards were from us?”
“Doubt it. We’re not exactly the first people on her mind.”
“Bet it’s driving her crazy.”
“Home in one piece, as promised!” exclaimed Uncle Al as he shook Mr. Turnquist’s hand. “And no worse for wear, though a bit sun-browned and shaggy.”
Mrs. Turnquist left off hugging Marcus long enough to reach for Ransom, who endured her mothering in abashed silence. Marcus couldn’t tell if it was because he wasn’t used to the attention or because Mr. Pavlos had been waiting with the Turnquist family to welcome them back.
Landon grabbed Marcus’s arm and pulled hard. “Did you bring me stuff?”
“Nope.” Smoothing his hand over his younger brother’s short curls, he quietly added, “Only me.”
“That’s pretty good, I guess.” The boy eyed Aleff shrewdly. “What about you?”
“Me?” Uncle Al began patting his pockets and cheerfully said, “Hold out your hands!”
Landon’s eyes widened, and he presented his palms.
One after another, Al pulled out odd rocks. “This is a scrap of the Grand Canyon, and this plug of granite is from South Dakota. I found this turquoise in a river, and this agate was sitting near a crossroads, waiting for a ride. Red pebbles, one from each ocean. An arrowhead. And, oh! I found this pretty little chunk of crystal in a cave.”
Marcus was distracted from Landon’s enthusiasm by Ransom, who shuffled over to greet his dad. But at that same moment, Brenna ran into the kitchen, all smiles.
“What’s that look for?” she exclaimed, swooping in for a hug. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”
Stunned, Marcus grabbed hold of his big sister and … clung.
She laughed and leaned back, trying to see his face. “I can’t wait to hear all about your adventure.”
All he could do was stare, because while he was away, Brenna had changed.
Shining brighter than the stars that had sung him to sleep. Lovelier than any dawn he’d rose early to watch. Running deeper than every river he and Ransom had plunged into. Marcus wanted to shout and weep and sing for joy.
His sister believed.
Next Month: Angel Unaware, Part 23: “Firm Believer”
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