A snowy egret skimmed the surface of the water, its ungainly legs extending out behind the pure white body and graceful wings like a slash of dark ink left behind by a sloppy artist.
George scowled at it. She wasn’t in the mood to admire beautiful birds. She wasn’t in the mood to be sitting out by this damp lake, either, smelling mud and mold, but here she was.
The wind was picking up so she folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot against the rotting wood of the old dock ostentatiously. Best Lo know her state of mind before he arrived. This wasn’t her idea of a good time. Why had he picked such a terrible location?
A mosquito landed on her wrist. She blinked at it, then blew a gentle puff of air at it to dislodge it, but the creature clung to her bare skin stubbornly. George lifted her folded arms to her face and eyed the insect.
It was trying to bite her. What a stupid bug. For a moment, she considered killing it. One tiny swat and the thing would never annoy anyone, ever again. But it wasn’t the kind of precedent she wanted to set. If she started with a bug, where would she stop?
She let her arms drop again and ignored it, as a sailboat, its sails fully extended, floated smoothly across the surface of the lake and neatly pulled up alongside the dock.
“What in Hades is that?” she demanded as Lo leaned over the railing, a warm smile on his face, and waved down at her.
“Is what?” He looked around him as if expecting to discover some creature looming over his shoulder.
“That, that…” she sputtered as she gestured at the side of the boat. “Your transportation,” she finally spit out.
He clapped a hand to his heart, looking hurt. “It’s a boat.”
“That’s not a boat. That’s a… a yacht!” It was a gorgeous sailboat, probably at least 30 feet long. The mast reached toward the sky and the sails spread out like enormous wings.
“So?” He lifted a shoulder.
She waved to indicate the puddle of a lake she stood next to. The locals called it Lake Hamilton, but if she’d been in charge of names, she would have gone for Hamilton Pond, at best. It was not a body of water that anyone sailed yachts on.
“This is a rowboat lake, “ she told him. “Maybe a kayak. Maybe a little sunfish sailboat or whatever they call those things that look too fragile to hold a full-size human. It is not a place where anyone would sail…” She brought her open hand down to indicate his boat. “…That.”
His eyes darkened in annoyance. “The rules say…”
“I know what the rules say,” she interrupted him. “When arriving within a cubit of an intelligent lifeform, appropriate transportation must be utilized. Appropriate! That is not appropriate.”
“It’s a boat. This is water.”
“It is not an appropriate boat.” She emphasized the word appropriate as she glared at him.
“Oh, George. Why must you be so stuffy?” Lo tried a placating smile.
George held her glare.
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine.” He disappeared behind the railing.
George waited. The mosquito on her arm, having tried repeatedly to penetrate her skin with its proboscis, finally gave up and flew away. The boat began to shimmer and shift, shrinking down, growing denser and smaller.
George looked around, scanning for signs of life. It would be a hell of an irony if someone saw Lo fixing the problem he’d created. But they were in the middle of nowhere. The only house on the shore was a ranger cabin that had looked unoccupied when she’d hiked by it a few hours earlier.
“Satisfied?” Lo stuck his head up, emerging from the depths that shouldn’t exist of a tiny skiff.
Grudgingly, George nodded. “What’s this about?”
He climbed up and jumped lightly onto the dock. “Can’t I just want to see my favorite relative?” He reached for her hand, but she pulled back, narrowing her eyes at him.
“Your favorite relative? What kind of trouble are you in now?”
“I’m not in any kind of trouble,” he defended himself.
“Uh-huh.” Her voice was dry, her lips pursed. How long had it been since she’d seen Lo? Six years, seven? For them, of course, that was the blink of an eye, and nothing unusual. She’d gone centuries without encountering some of the family. But if she were ranking Lo’s favorite relatives, she’d be nowhere near the top of the list. They were cousins, with a degree of consanguinity that she barely bothered to remember, and he had six sisters who adored him. “Spill.”
“I swear, you get less civilized by the decade,” he complained.
She lifted an eyebrow and didn’t bother to respond.
With the air of a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cube, smaller than his palm. He rolled his fingers, letting it drop to the ground where it began to unfold, edges popping out to the sides, revealing the red-and-white checks of a picnic cloth. “How about a meal first?”
“Lo, look around you,” George snapped. “I don’t want to be here. There’s mud and bugs and it smells.” She nodded at the cube, already reaching the edges of the dock. “And that’s going to go in the water if you’re not careful.”
He sighed and for a moment a look of impatience crossed his face, before he quickly replaced it with a smile. “Mud? Bugs? No problem.” He slashed his hand across the air and then pulled his fingers in as if grasping something unseen, then threw the unseen object over his shoulder.
George felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “What did you just do?”
“Killed the bugs and turned the mud into porcelain,” he replied evenly.
George looked over the edge of the dock. Through the murky water, she could see white reflecting off the bottom.