Wake Me

The Plateau: Spring, 1923

For all of its ingenuity the elevator was anything but quiet. As the carriage fell the clatter of gears echoed throughout the tree house. The sound brought a sleepy smile to Marguerite's face, even before she'd opened her eyes. Her dark hair had come free during the night and found its way into every crevice of her soft pillows and blankets. She rolled onto her back stretching her neck and shoulders, and then pushed away the unruly curls.

With a thud, the counterweight shifted and the rattle ceased. Marguerite sat up with an exaggerated stretch and yawn, for her own amusement, and then tiptoed to her doorway to listen to the quiet. Roxton had left for an early hunt. The tree house was hers alone. She could hear faint putterings from Challenger's lab, but the professor would be lost down there for hours, no concern of hers.

She draped a quilt around her shoulders and collected her sewing basket. The hallway carried a light spring breeze of honey blossoms and the promise of freshly brewed coffee. She poured herself a cup, crossed to the balcony, and then settled into an oversized wicker chair. Prepared for the morning chill, she fluffed her blanket over her legs and began to sort through her mending.

The sun had crested the distant mountains and the jungle was beginning to wake. She wondered if Malone, still away on his walkabout, was watching the same sunrise, or if Veronica had found the fabled entrance to Avalon – or whether both were safe.

Idly, her needle and thread tightened loose seams, and replaced lost buttons. She had been a fair seamstress all of her life, but the need here had honed her skill. John's favorite blue shirt had returned to the mending pile, again. The quality of the fabric was unquestionable, but years in the jungle had left the garment threadbare beyond simple mending. She had taken the shears to one of her own blue shirts to make the more extensive repairs. What little remained of the cloth was here in her basket, and she began to measure out what she would need today.

As the morning light crept above the shadows, she imagined John on his hunt –in his element. Was there ever a man more suited to this life? He ran contrary to everything she had dreamed of, yet they fit together so… nicely.

There was a distant report of a rifle. Marguerite felt the slow swell of fear. She held her breath and waited for a second shot –or a third. But they did not come. One shot meant wild game. John was safe. Suddenly, she was overcome, and tears welled up in her eyes.

She was not a woman given to petty sentiment, and she refused to romanticize her situation here on the Plateau. She dabbed her sleeve to her cheeks. How was it that this place – this dirty little bamboo hut in the trees – had become more of a home to her than anywhere she had ever been? The answer seemed simple, but it was not.

The lift gate slammed shut – John had returned early. Marguerite leapt to her feet; she had her reputation to consider. If the others caught her awake before noon she'd never hear the end of it.

She hurried to the kitchen, wiped dry her china cup and returned it to its hook. Heavy footfalls echoed up the stairwell from the Professor's lab. He would be coming up to greet the hunter. Nearly running, Marguerite crossed the common room. Challenger arrived just as she rounded the corner, safely undiscovered – her blanket trailing silently behind her, following her to her room.

By the time John reached the high canopy the professor had poured them both a cup of coffee. "I expected you'd be gone another hour yet – cleaning the game," the older man said, as he situated himself at the table.

"Yes, well, that wily capybara had other plans." The hunter joined him and the two swapped pleasantries for a time, but Roxton's eyes searched the common room, the balcony, and then fell to the hallway.

"I don't believe she's risen yet this morning," Challenger answered the unasked question.

John looked beyond the balcony breezeway, to the sky. "If the sun gets any higher, we won't be able to call this 'morning'." He stood and headed toward the bedrooms.

"Really, Roxton?" the professor asked, with a disapproving nod. How many times must he be bitten before he learns, he finished the thought to himself as he made quick steps for his lab.

Marguerite lay in her bed. She could hear the men jabbering – how long would John wait? After a time the conversation went quiet and she knew that he was near. She closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.

John leaned carefully into the bedroom doorway. The woman looked so serene, he could hardly bring himself to wake her. "Marguerite," he whispered.

Her only response was to clutch her pillows closer to her ears.

He whispered again, and she growled. A guttural, underworld growl that belied her stature.

He gripped the bed cover at her feet and gave it a firm tug. She lashed out, kicking his hand free of her blankets. In one vicious motion, she sat up and launched a pillow straight to his face.

John feigned fear and rejection. "I guess some folks just aren't morning people," he said, as he retreated back into the hallway. A satisfied smile crept upon his face; she would be joining him soon.

Marguerite flopped back with an audible huff and pulled her blankets to her chin, but an undeniable flutter warmed her chest. After a time she composed herself, put on her best morning-scowl, and dragged her slippers to the kitchen.

The table had been set with flatbread and jam, and the usual selection of fresh fruit. John rose and offered her a seat, but instead she sidled up to him and lay her head against the crook of his neck. He slipped his arm around her waist and the two lingered in silence. After a time, she spoke...

"If you're going to wake me at this ungodly hour, at least tell me you've made coffee."