OIL IN WATER
Gil coughed and opened his mouth, pushing with his tongue. His eyes flew open and he found his face pressed against Max’s coat, a mouthful of the course bristly stuff, dry as cotton, poking at the insides of his cheeks. He coughed and spit the hair out, whacking at it with his unencumbered hand. The bushy mane turned, like a giant rock rolling away from the cave’s opening, and yawned. Max lay on his back, paws in the air, and whined, waiting for Gil to rub his belly. Gil grabbed his water bottle from the night stand, took a big swig and swished it around in his mouth.
“Yuck.” He sat cross-legged next to Max, adjusted his sling, then began to rub in slow, deliberate circles with his good hand, putting them both in a trance. Max moaned in ecstacy, scratching the air one front paw at a time until Gil stopped in mid-stroke.
“Oh my God.” Gil looked at Max. “I had a dream, Max. I had a dream.” Gil got up on his knees and bounced. “I had a dream, Maxie. A dream!” Gil stood up on the bed and began jumping up and down, then dancing in a strange, cohesive rhythm, singing all the while. “I had a dream. I had a dream.” He danced and sang and twirled, “I had a dream. I had a dream,” until his foot accidentally landed on the discarded water bottle and he toppled to the floor. He stuck the landing. Max stared over the side of the bed after him. For a moment Gil looked at him with wide-eyes before bursting into peals of laughter.
“I gotta tell Kori and Avery.” He leaped up and in two giant, awkward strides, he was at the door. “C’‘mon, Max. Let’s go.”
Hart sat on the couch with his laptop and a cup of coffee. Avery sat at the other end reading the Sunday Inquirer . Kori and Jack snuggled together on the recliner. They could hear Aunt Stella, whistling in the kitchen while she made breakfast.
“I still can’t believe it’s a week already,” Avery said.
“Can we not talk about it please?” Hart asked. “I’m better if I just don’t think about it.” Hart sighed. Had Bicky, in a single and unlikely courageous act, not saved Gil from probable extinction at the hand of a man whom Hart had at one time considered to be his close friend and ally, things would be vastly different right now. For the past week, Hart had struggled to redefine his relationships with both men, but the matter was too close, the parameters too large, so he filed it under the category of Life’s Mysteries and Conundrums, the kind that need time and space for disentanglement. Kori’s yelp roused Hart from his reverie.
“Aaaah, your feet are cold,” she said. Jack rubbed his bare feet against Kori’s calf. After a few seconds of squirming, she wrapped both her legs around them.
“God, I love you,” Jack said, nuzzling Kori’s neck. “I come to you with cold feet and you embrace them.” He hugged her to him and whispered in her ear, “I really love you.”
“I love you, too,” Kori whispered back.
“No, I mean I really love you,” Jack said. “Really, really love you.”
Kori poked Jack in the ribs and he grabbed both her hands. She squirmed free just as Gil came running down the stairs, Max barking in his wake.
“I had a dream,” he said, jumping up and down. “I had a dream.” He stopped in the center of the room and did a little jig. Max jumped around Gil’s feet, barking until Gil picked him up by the front paws and danced with him.
Hart stared at Gil and Max, a smile gracing his lips. Drawn by the commotion, Aunt Stella waddled into the room.
“What was it?” Kori asked, sidling up next to Gil. Used to the last week’s worth of uber-mothering, Gil stopped his little dance and raised his face to Kori so she could feel his forehead with her chin. “No fever,” she said and shrugged.
“He’s alive,” Gil said. Robbie’s alive.”
Aunt Stella covered her mouth and folded into an armchair. Kori yelped as if she’d been poked and dropped to her knees. “Tell me.”
Avery joined Kori on the floor and Gil sat down next to them, wrapping his good arm around Max’s neck to keep him still.
“He’s someplace with a lot of water.”
“Water? Iraq’s a desert,” Jack said.
Gil shrugged and ran his closed lips back and forth over his teeth. He looked at Jack.
“Ssshhhh,” Kori said to Jack. “More,” she said to Gil.
“Well, there was a desert in the background, but there was so much water everywhere that I’m just not sure.” He scratched at Max’s ears and drifted off, back toward the dream.
“More,” said Kori.
“Robbie was wearing a robe and one of those head thingees,” Gil said, rubbing Max’s wide side. “And the people traveled by boat. Well, really by these little canoes. And they used poles instead of paddles to move the canoe through the water.”
“Interesting,” Hart said. He assessed Gil with his brilliant hazel eyes before typing something into the computer.
“More,” Kori said. Her eyes didn’t leave Gil’s face.
Gil thought for a moment, his mouth animated, his eyes and nose scrunched in concentration. “Oh yeah. He was digging a hole. He was using a little shovel and this long cylindrical thingee that was open at the top and bottom and some of the sides.”
“An auger?” Jack asked. Gil shrugged. Aunt Stella sat, fanning herself with a dishtowel.
“Got it,” Hart said. “Is this what you saw?” He turned the laptop’s screen toward Gil who jumped up and ran over to look at it.
“That’s it! That’s it!” Gil said.
“Where is that?” Avery asked. Everyone leaned in to peer at the screen.
“That, is the Fertile Crescent,” Hart said. “It’s in southern Iraq. And if you believe the bible, this is where civilization got its first leg up.”
“Wow,” Gil said.
“Are you sure that’s where he is?” Kori asked.
Gil nodded. “Looks exactly like it.”
“So how do we find him?” Kori asked.
“Depends. He might not want to be found,” Jack said. “He’s supposed to be dead, remember?”
“Which means…” Kori said.
“…that he faked his own death,” Avery finished.
“He doesn’t want to see us anymore,” Kori said, a crack in her voice.
“No. It’s not like that. He’ll come back,” Gil said. “When he’s done.” Gil nodded his head with enthusiasm.
Kori gave Hart a look which he interpreted as a need for deliverance.
“I’ll put feelers out,” Hart said. “See what I can come up with. I do have some contacts in Iraq….”
“Is that safe?” Jack asked.
“I’ll be discreet,” Hart said. He looked to Kori. “Okay?”
“Okay,” she said, hugging him so hard he yelped. She ran over to Aunt Stella whose eyes appeared to be leaking then floated back to her spot on the recliner.
Avery grabbed Gil by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. “You sure?” Gil nodded assent. Avery pulled Gil to his chest and let out a long, haggard breath.
“Of course he’s sure. He’s a visionary,” Hart said, smiling. “Okay,” Hart said. “Now — Gil. You feeling up to a little work?” He patted the seat next to him.
“Sure,” Gil said, and flopped down on the couch.
Hart smiled and gave Gil a brief hug, avoiding the sling. Gil, startled by the gesture, sat very still for a moment before awkwardly patting Hart on the back.
“I give you four stars,” Gil said, looking pleased with himself.
“Who? Hart?” Jack asked. “Why does he get four stars?”
Gil looked at Hart with complete admiration in his eyes. “He just does. And if he moves in with us for good, I’ll give him four and a half.”
Hart cleared his throat, blinked his eyes and stared at the screen, suddenly at a loss for words. Gil leaned against him on the pretense of following Hart’s gaze.
“Okay,” Gil said, “show me what you got.”