the right light
In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.
-- Aaron Rose
"... Lewis had designed it with a collapsible frame, so it could be better transported. It was a clever bit of engineering, but of course it proved ultimately impractical, as the river was often too--"
Ray set down his French fry and held up a hand.
"Wait. Quick like a bunny: I'm learning about collapsible canoes why?"
Fraser quirked his eyebrows.
"You had expressed an interest in Lewis and Clark, Ray, and I was merely--"
"Hold it, hold up, I been sitting here the whole time and I know for a fact I never said thing one about Lewis, or Clark, or paddling down a river in a canoe."
"Up the river, Ray, to discover its source. And they actually had to pole quite a measurable distance, due to the shallows--"
A flash of light caught his eye and Ray turned his head to track a stylish blonde who happened to be passing the diner's bay window. The afternoon sun was reflecting off her probably-expensive watch, and Ray watched her walk until she was blocked out by the diner's plain white wall.
"Someone you know, Ray?"
"Nah. It just-- reminded me of something." He drummed his fingers lightly on the table-top and shifted on the bench, letting the memory float up out of his thoughts and press itself against his brain like the little plastic die in a Magic 8 Ball. "When I was a kid, our class took a field trip for science class. We went canoeing. We were supposed to name as many animals as we could, and pick up trash and stuff while we were out there. I saw all these weird birds I'd never seen before. It was kind of cool." He and Fraser shared a little outdoor-life smile for a second and then Ray continued, "Trying to figure out how to paddle without looking like a dork, that wasn't cool. Somehow, I'd managed to get Stella to share a canoe with me, and I didn't want her to think I was a doof. That was the first time I was ever really alone with her for more than like, five minutes." He paused a moment, scouting Fraser's face for signs of Mountie disapproval.
Sometimes Ray felt a little guilty for not talking up Stella more. He knew that Fraser hadn't gotten to see Stella's good side, and because Fraser was so loyal and all, he maybe even didn't think she had one.
But there was none of that careful I'm-being-polite blankness in his face, and so Ray said, "I kissed Stella for the first time, right there in that canoe."
Ray remembered being vaguely creeped out by the slimy old canoe, and half hoping it would sink so he could rescue Stella, maybe give her mouth to mouth... They'd been surrounded by stinky army-green water and he and Stella had ended up with a helluva sunburn. The sun had glinted off the little gold chain she was wearing around her sun-pinked neck. She'd been squinting against the glare off the water, her face kind of pouty and flushed, but the sun had made her blonde hair glow white like she was an honest-to-God angel. An angel that smelled like sweat and strawberry lipgloss.
And tasted like it, too.
"That's a lovely memory, Ray." He smiled at Ray and folded his hands together, leaning forward slightly.
"In a curious coincidence, my first kiss was also in a canoe."
Fraser got that serious he look that said he was trying to convince Ray of his solemn sincerity.
"Oh yes. Her name was Joon. She, her brother Innusiq and I were Inuvuk's resident Boy Scout Troop. I kissed her because Peter Edgemont had dared me, and it was a matter of honor that I accomplish the task.
"And so one day when we had gone out fishing, I leaned forward as quick as I could and pecked her on the mouth."
"Greatness. So what was it like?"
"I was eight, Ray." Fraser looked amused. "It was hardly the stuff of romance novels. Of course, she then demanded that I kiss Innusiq as well..." He trailed off fondly.
Ray shook his head, and banged the heel of his hand just above his left ear.
"Well, they were twins, Ray. They shared everything equally. They were quite fierce about it, as I recall."
He rubbed his shoulder absently, and Ray figured he remembered enough about being a kid himself to figure out an eight year old tomboy's standard method of persuasion.
"And so I kissed him."
"Huh." Ray had been having trouble trying to wrap his brain around the idea of Fraser ever being a kid; now Ray's thoughts scattered like playing cards in a game of 52 Pick-Up. After waiting a moment to make sure he'd heard it right, he asked the only reasonable question.
"He punch your face in?"
Fraser blinked at him.
"No. I just kissed him, and we went back to fishing."
"Okay then. So." Ray stretched his shoulders and leaned back to sling an arm along the back of the diner's cracked vinyl booth. "Kissin' in canoes. Good times, huh?"
Fraser nodded, beaming. From Ray's new angle, he could see the side of Fraser's head, and he noticed the sun picking out little glints in Fraser's hair. The Mountie's left ear was all peachy where the light poured in through the window beside him.
When Ray had been little, his mom had brought him back a sea-shell nightlight from her trip to Miami to visit Aunt Vi. Sometimes if he woke up and had to pee, he'd touch it with his bare foot as he headed past it for the bathroom. The light it gave was kind of pink and the shell was so thin you could see the gumball shape of the bulb behind it, and it was always warm, like it was alive.
Ray rubbed his thumb and forefinger together meditatively and tried to come up with an even slightly credible reason to reach out and touch the Mountie's shell-pink ear.
When he couldn't come up with one, he did it anyway.