The harvest was starting to dwindle. The end of the season was seeing flowers starting to thin out, which meant less honey. It hadn’t started getting severely cold yet, but the nights were chilly. Of course, in the hill country at this time of year, snow was just a quick cold front away, though it usually waited until December.
Steven towed a flatbed cart behind a little farm tractor back from the bee yard. On it he had stacked a few white wooden bee boxes, all covered with canvas to keep the bees out. They were heavy with honey and Steven had to harvest them frame by dripping frame. He wore a veil, but the bees he tended never really bothered him. The veil was more for the comfort of Jonah, who couldn’t approach the hives without a full suit. He grinned at that thought, feeling special.
His thoughts meandered to his biological parents as Steven drove across the farm, back to the little cob shed he and Jonah had set up to be his honey house. He had never known them since they went missing when he was still an infant and their closest friends had adopted him. Steven found it maddeningly peculiar that no pictures even existed of them.
The only thing he knew was at one time they were close friends, and quite suddenly his biological parents met some mysterious calamity that had yet to have been fully explained to him. He resented that, as much as he liked his adoptive parents. Steven felt that he had a right to know. Was anyone trying to find them, or did anyone try when they first went missing? He had seen no hint of any sort of search and he wondered if, after ten years, they would ever be found.
The tractor jostled as it passed over one of the cattle guards on their farm that allowed access to their modest pastures. The jolting woke Steven from his thoughts. He had done this so many times that often he would go on automatic pilot as he drove from the barn to the fields and back.
While most of his peers loathed the homestead chores their parents had given them, Steven had taken the initiative himself to manage hives Jonah would have otherwise gotten rid of. He didn’t get an allowance; their farm life wasn’t that lucrative. But the honey he sold from the hives more than made up for that. And that money was what he needed to try to get answers about his parents that he’d not been able to coax from anyone in town or from his adoptive parents.
After he backed the trailer into the barn, he unhitched it and drove the tractor out so Jonah could use it out in their gardens and orchards. He had considered extracting the honey, but it was nearly time for market. They would have to wait until later. There were already a few cases of honey bottled up and ready for the sale sitting in the bed of the truck anyway. He was eager to get to his booth at the market and start making sales. He was ecstatic about the growing popularity of his honey and even more so at the income. Most kids in the area subsisted on meager allowances.
Steven was preparing that day’s lunch for market when Sally and Jonah finally dragged themselves out of bed. It wasn’t all that late, though. He always had been the early riser of the family, getting his chores done ahead of breakfast so he’d have the rest of the day to do things he wanted to do.
Last night’s events didn’t help, however. They must have been up late last night cleaning up from the tremor because he didn’t see any of the mess. Sally reached up into the hanging egg basket, and grabbed a few of the eggs Steven had collected that morning. Pulling a large ceramic bowl down from the shelf over their gas stove, she began preparing breakfast. She bumped into Steven with her hip as he tried to move out of her way, making him giggle, then she turned and gave him a big, spontaneous hug.
“How are you doing, pumpkin?” She ruffled his black, wavy hair and looked at him, smiling. There was a glint of worry in her eyes, however.
“Better.” Steven smiled. As nightmares go, last night’s was fairly typical for him.
She gave him a kiss on the forehead and smiled back at him for a moment. “Way better?” He nodded.
“I almost thought you were going to call me Mom again.” Sally held his chin up.
Steven fidgeted and looked away. “Sorry. It’s just…weird. You know.”
She smiled sadly at him and turned back to cracking the eggs into her mixing bowl. “I hope you’re hungry.”
“Oh yeah,” Steven said excitedly. He was famished. He took a jar of dried mushrooms down from the shelf and put them next to her. The best eggs always have a bit of fungus in them, he thought to himself, smiling. Then he went out to the porch and brought in that morning’s harvest of miner’s lettuce. After rinsing it off, he put the bowl on the counter next to where Sally was cooking. Grabbing a handful of the greens, he started chopping it for the eggs.
It didn’t take him long to finish gathering and preparing the various ingredients they liked in their morning eggs. Satisfied, Steven wiped his hands and sat down on a large hand hewn bench at the heavy picnic style wooden table that Jonah had made from trees he had milled. He played absentmindedly with the grain of the redwood. “Can I go to Brandon’s after the market?” He hadn’t seen his best friend in town for a few weeks since he spent part of his time at their primary mansion in Seattle.
“Are his parents going to be home?” Sally glanced over her shoulder at him while she whisked the eggs. Steven hesitated and she turned to look at him.
“Um,” Steven didn’t know but really wanted to avoid that question. Sally never let him go over to Brandon’s if his parents weren’t there. “They might. It’s the weekend.”
“We’ll see.” She poured the eggs into a heavy iron skillet and started stirring them as they scrambled while she adjusted the flame of the stove with her free hand. The vintage gas stove still seemed almost too modern for a kitchen that consisted of a lot of hand milled wood, cob construction, cast iron shelf supports, and rough slate floor tiles. A wood stove would probably have fit in better, and Jonah would have preferred it. But then, Sally ruled the kitchen. She glanced at him as she poured the scrambled eggs into the ceramic bowl and top-dressed them with some fresh goat cheese.
Steven pouted. ‘We’ll see’ usually meant ‘no.’ “We’re just going to look at his comic books.” Mostly, he thought to himself. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
“And get on their computer?” Sally brought over the bowl of steaming scrambled eggs just as Jonah arrived with a tin of home grown dried figs from the root cellar. He put it on the table and tied back his long black hair. He grinned at Sally and winked at Steven, then grabbed some glasses from the shelf while he listened in on the discussion. Sally stopped and looked at Steven expectantly.
“No,” Steven answered too quickly. Sally already knew, and he knew that she knew. Jonah smiled at him, shaking his head. He knew, too, and that just made Steven more frustrated. “We only play games anyway.” Well, not exactly, but that’s what Brandon always wanted to do so it wasn’t an outright lie. “How much trouble can we get in just playing games?”
“Sorry, bub. No parents, no Brandon’s.” Jonah sat down next to Steven and passed him a plate. Like the bowls, the plates were hand turned ceramic from Sally’s little pottery shop, glazed with abstract designs with a decidedly Native American motif.
Steven was exasperated at the same old losing battle. What would possibly warrant their unreasonable fear of computers? “But Jonah, we don’t do anything that’s dangerous. Just games and stuff.”
“And stuff.” Jonah nodded, looking at Sally as she placed a pitcher of orange juice on the table and sat down. He waved the spoon for the eggs at Steven for emphasis. “I’ve told you before, I’ve been there and seen the crazy stuff that goes on. There’s nothing safe about computers nowadays. Not even games.” He spooned eggs onto his plate and piled some on Steven’s plate and passed the figs to his adopted son.
Steven sulked, picking at his scrambled eggs with his fork. “It hasn’t hurt Brandon.” He just wanted to download some hacking software for his project and it was easier at Brandon’s. They had a great connection to the Internet. How else was he going to find his parents? But he couldn’t tell them that. They were already too strict on computers as it was. If they knew what Steven was doing they’d probably ground him to his room and make him do chores until he was gray and old. Jonah didn’t answer Steven’s perfectly logical reasoning. Sighing, Steven finished his plate and put it in the sink after rinsing it off.
“I’ll be out by the truck.” Steven grabbed a handful of figs and walked out, dejected, dragging his feet a little to emphasize his displeasure.
Sally looked at Jonah while chewing. Jonah sighed and shook his head. The kid was brilliant and bucking against the limitations pretty hard. He and Sally had all but given up computers ten years ago when they moved out to the hills to raise Steven.
“It’s going to be harder and harder as he gets older. All of his friends have computers,” Sally said, wiping her mouth with her napkin.
“Telling him the truth won’t make it any easier.” He got up, grabbing the last fig from the tin. “See you at the market?”
Sally nodded and gathered up their dishes as he left.
~ ~ ~
The trip to the market was fairly quiet while Steven fumed. They had told him about the dangers but he was smarter than they gave him credit for, and he was ten years old. Most certainly not a baby anymore. He sniffed as he stared out the window watching the trees and scattering farm fields and vineyards go by on their short trip to town.
“You ready for school?” Jonah hoped to distract him from his foul mood. Steven really enjoyed school. They homeschooled him and he soaked in everything he could learn and was always looking for more. He was already three grades ahead of what he normally would be at his age. Jonah wondered sometimes if he was reading the town library’s collection over yet again, checking books out and disappearing into the forest to wherever it was that he went to read them.
Steven tried to think of something negative to say, but drew a blank. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Eighth grade already. Can you believe it?” Jonah gushed. He was amazed at how fast the kid was progressing.
Steven grunted, milking his sour mood out for as long as he could. The prospect of new textbooks and yet another level of schooling did excite him, but he tried hard to not show it.
Jonah looked at him then back at the road. “What were the years the Civil War was fought?”
Steven sighed. They often played this game. “1861 to 1865.” He fiddled with the fraying weather stripping on the window.
“Hmm. What was Black Tuesday?” He looked sideways at the pouting boy.
“The Wall Street Crash of 1829,” Steven sighed loudly.
“What year was Black Tuesday?” Jonah grinned.
Steven was about to answer then stopped and looked at Jonah. “Really?”
Jonah laughed out loud.
Steven grinned and straightened himself in the seat then sobered. “I just don’t understand why you are so afraid.”
Jonah was quiet for a while then looked at Steven. “There are some really bad things that are going on, Steven. I’ve seen it and it was brutal. I don’t expect you to understand right now. All I ask is that you respect our limitations.”
Steven sighed again. “Yes, sir.” The forest started thinning and Steven watched the occasional farmhouse pass by, wondering if his adoptive parents would ever relax about computers. After all, it was his parents that were missing, not theirs, and searching the computer networks was the only way Steven knew to look for information about them.