Four straight days of Phlox’s company reminded Ivy why she’d left the counseling practice she’d worked so hard to build. Her sister spent her days surfing the arteries of modern life as a social media manager for a popular U.S. Senator. Ivy knew Phlox worked incredibly hard, but she also knew her sister thrived in the fast, ever-shifting world of internet branding and message marketing, she used Uber and knew where to eat and who to wear. For Ivy, though, the noise of the city had left her breathless and weary at the end of every day, exhausted from battling the demons wrought in others by the hectic, frantic lives they all lived.
“You look awful,” Phlox pointed out from where she was perched on the Poang rocker by the fire, poring over the Senator’s Twitter feed.
Ivy laughed out loud. She knew she stank, she’d been mucking the coop and pulling the last of the winter garden. She had sweet, nearly scarlet carrots still coming up in her cold-framed vegetable patch; her pride in them was mildly embarrassing. Far more so than her chicken manure-stained pants.
She gathered her breath in what she hoped wasn’t a wheeze. Thirty-seven wasn’t that old. “Thanks, sister.”
Phlox looked up, suddenly aware of her own words. “Aw, Iveeeeeee……” She sprang up from her chair and wrapped Ivy in a burrowing hug. “Let’s go out. There must be somewhere to go out, right?”
“You know what? There is.”
She was sure Phlox hadn’t meant hiking by moonlight when she’d said, “… go out,” but Ivy knew two things, Jupiter was south-southwest of the gibbous moon in an icy clear sky, and the Stone Garden was the place to see it. She carried snacks and a bottle of wine in her pack, and felt the full weight of a day’s labor in her knees and quads. Phlox had a pair of camping pads rolled up and slung cross-body on her back, and was striding through the night forest as if she’d hiked every day of her twenty-six years.
Benevolent hatred was totally a thing, wasn’t it?
When they reached the point where the cart road up from the homestead opened into the clearing, they saw that they were not alone in their pursuit of celestial events. Picking his way out from the deer track that climbed up from Snake Mountain Road, was the stranger who’d rescued her goats. She was sure of it.
She was unsure as soon as her sister’s voice rang out over the clearing.
“Sterling?” Phlox was staring at her goat-rescuer with her mouth open.
The man stopped short, squinting into what moonlight there was. His gaze moved between Ivy and Phlox, coming to rest on Phlox’s R.E.I.-catalogued person with an expression that reminded Ivy of a cornered animal.