After exiting the Camaro, silence governed the quartet as they stretched, sniffed, and glanced. Laurel’s father had given the car to her as a high school graduation gift. Camaros had only been out for like, two years, and the little car looked sporty and fresh against the grayish morning.
The town had just completed a face lift of the old plaza. Clean and white cement walks outlined fresh carpets of new, cut grass. Busy, the plaza remained quiet with the stalwart momentum of citizens engaging daily routines. As far as air and sky went, powdery grays above snickered about a chance of drizzle while a streak of sunshine under a blue patch insisted that a sunny day could be possible.
Chatter about what to do ensued. Where should they start? Should they eat first? Toast and bacon smells surfing the fall breeze said, “Come, eat. Follow me.”
Gavin, looking right and stamping his feet against the feeling that they were going numb, saw a small sign on a stack beside a rhodie drooping with night’s damp. Aloud, he read, “Amber’s gift.” Such words created a mental puzzle. Gazing up the steps toward the dank chilliness where they went, his appetite grew.
Back to his friends, he said, “I want to eat first, but pre-first, I’m going to go see what Amber’s Gift is. It’s just take a minute.”
“Pre-first?” Shallie laughed.
“Amber’s gift.” Keri’s face beetled into a frown. “Okay, but don’t be long. I’m hungry. I want to go eat, and I need coffee.” She groaned. “God, do I need coffee. Do I smell coffee?” She lifted her nose into the air. “I do. That’s coffee. Where is that? Does anyone else smell coffee?”
As the others bantered with her about coffee, Gavin said, “I’ll be right back.” He went up the shallow steps fast, two at a time. Pockmarked by time and rain, the cement flight were probably decades old, but the sign, red hand-painted letters on cardboard on a wooden blonde stake, looked new. With that background set, he didn’t expect much. The walk would probably be a minute venture. He wanted to pack everything that he could into every minute. This would be his last weekend away. His draft number had been drawn and he was reporting to the recruiting station the next Monday. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam after basic. Crossing his fingers, he repeated to himself, “Hopefully.”
Shielded by giant firs, pines, sycamores, and oaks, the steps went up higher than Gavin expected. He went fast because he didn’t want to keep the others waiting. As he thought that he’d taken too much time and energy and his stomach rumbled with a request to be fed, he spotted a glow. It seemed like a faintly illuminated cloud of golden pollen dust. Past the glow, the park’s woods seemed darker and wetter than he’d think possible at nine plus in the morning. Quieter, too. Only sounds of his breathing and heart-beat reached him.
The glow seemed like it was concentrated in a dome. He didn’t see anything like a placard to explain this or confirmation that he’d reached Amber’s Gift. Pivoting to turn and leave, he saw something on the ground in the cloud’s middle. That looked like a bronze disc. It was that, he saw in another step, but also a polished, faceted piece of amber that was as large as his head. Eyes widening, he walked up to it and squatted, dropping his fingers to its surface with a gentle stroke. He expected it to be hard and cold, but soft warmth greeted his fingers. Smiling he stroked it again, counting, two, three, four, five.
That was enough, he thought, then was amused that he’d quantified and counted his strokes. Leaping up, he dashed back down the steps. The girls were waiting for him at the bottom beside Laurel’s Prius. The red car looked almost like a space ship.
“About time,” Laurel said as Keri said, “Here comes Christmas.”
“Where have you been?” Shallie asked, arms crossed. “We were about to give you up as dead.”
As he went to answer, Gavin’s arms caught his attention. His fake leather jacket was changing. After gaping at that, he gawked at his friends. Ridiculously wide bell bottoms accented their blue jean hip-huggers, but all that was changing into tight black and blue bottoms that outlined their thighs, knees, and calves. He was certain that it wasn’t what they’d been wearing before.
“Where were you?” Laurel demanded.
“I was.” Beginning to point, Gavin looked for the Amber’s Gift sign. A mossy look of confused thinking hung on his face. “Where’s the sign?
“What sign?” Shallie asked.
The girls laughed. Laurel said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gavin.”
Keri gestured him forward. “Come on, dude. You need coffee.”
“Some coffee would be groovy,” Gavin replied, nodding.
“Groovy?” Laurel laughed. “What decade are you in?”
Remembering something for a moment, Gavin chuckled. “I don’t know.” As he and his friends went along the plaza’s old, worn walks, sunshine split the gray clouds and peeled them away from the day.