Scent of the Roses

Oberon: Book One

 

Scout Patterson had been running away from home for twenty years.  But her home was in quirky, idyllic Oberon, California.  And Oberon was not an easy place to leave behind.

There was something magical about the place.  Everyone agreed to that.

Something that transcended explanation and defied description.

To the Native Americans who'd originally settled the area around Mt. Totawka, Oberon was sacred ground, a natural focus for spiritual power.  It was a perspective that was shared by generations of artists, hippies, spiritualists, and promoters of every persuasion.

Things happened there that could happen nowhere else.

But magic was only one part of the Oberon mystique.  People were also  drawn to the hot springs, the artist colony, the annual hot air balloon fest, or to any one of a half dozen local harvest festivals – almond, artichoke, strawberry, olive, garlic  and grape.  Not to mention the widely publicized, public observance of every solstice, equinox and sabbat celebration on the solar calendar.

So, despite its being the smallest of small towns, located along a particularly remote portion of Central California coastline, Oberon had always attracted more than its fair share of tourists.  And it seemed to Scout that she always knew someone who was either just about to go there or who’d only recently returned.

For twenty years she viewed the snapshots they’d taken.  She admired their acquisitions – the artwork, the wine, the occasional tan.  And she listened to the stories they brought back from their trips with the same unwilling fascination that causes drivers to slow to a crawl as they pass the scene of an accident.  Part fear and loathing, part morbid curiosity.

Now, after all those years of knowing she would never return, Scout Patterson was going home.

Home.  Now there was a thought!    Scout considered the concept as her car sped along roads she’d spent years avoiding.  For most of her childhood it hadn’t held much meaning.  She was still an infant when her parents separated and her mother had taken off for parts unknown, leaving Scout’s father to bring her up as best he could.

And he had done his best, she supposed.  But Gil Patterson was an artist, a role that would always take precedence over father.  His main focus had been his work. He’d funneled most of his remaining passion into his love life, diving headfirst into one disastrous relationship after another, often moving them from city to city in the process.   No one had ever argued that her upbringing had been ideal.  Certainly Scout never felt any inclination to defend it.

Oberon was the only place that even came close to meeting her expectations of what home should be.  She’d passed most of her adolescence in the little town, experiencing more warmth and security than she’d ever known.  Until, without warning, a brief, bewildering confluence of events had swept through her young life.

In the space of a few short weeks she lost everything she held dear.

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Scout found herself bound for Florida to live with a grandfather she hadn’t seen since she was three years old.  It had not been her idea to leave Oberon, but by the time she’d boarded that plane she was long past caring about much of anything.  Her charmingly eccentric father was dead.  Her beautiful stepsister had disappeared.  And she had betrayed, or been betrayed by, most of her friends and everyone she loved.

She would go where she was sent, do as she was told, answer whatever questions were asked her.  And generally try to live life as best she could with her heart dull and dead within her.

But for how long?  The thought welled up out of nowhere.  Scout lunged for the radio, flicking it on and rapidly punching buttons in a vain attempt to find something worth listening to.  But the barren stretch of highway that extends north from Los Angeles is not known for its plethora of alternative rock stations.  Muttering a curse, she gave up the search and resigned herself to being captive to her own sorry thoughts.

How long?  Well, it had been twenty years so far.  Twenty years and counting.

Scout’s goal during those years had been simple: to steer clear of emotional entanglements.  The income from her father’s estate made her independent and allowed her to indulge her own dreams of being an artist.  She had traveled.  Like a shark who must always keep swimming – even during sleep, or die – she had wandered restlessly.

For the last few years she’d been living in Los Angeles, home of the professional dilettante, where she had dabbled in various forms of artistic expression.  Including a de riguer, and extremely short-lived career as a film actress.  Most recently she’d begun to receive recognition for her work as a sculptor.

If it sometimes struck her that the life she’d created was just the slightest bit empty, just a little too aimless, boring and bland, well, it sure beat the alternative.

The ringing of her cell phone called her thoughts back to the present.  Grateful for the distraction, she fished it out of her handbag without taking her eyes from the road.

“Scout!  Where the hell are you?”  Her agent’s voice crackled through the phone.  “I got a message here saying you’re going out of town for awhile.  Awhile is not a time frame I can work with, Princess.  You’re not eloping with one of those yummy boy-toys you’re always flaunting at me, are you?”

Scout smiled.  “No such luck, Larry.”  Larry Mitchell, her agent and sometimes friend, had developed a hopelessly over-inflated picture of Scout’s love life – of just about everyone’s love life – since the departure of his most recent partner, Ronnie.  “The boy-toys are all yours.  I’m on my way to Oberon.”

“Ooh, lucky girl.  What’s it you’re going for?  The Midsummer Festival?  Gonna dance naked around the bonfire, are you?”

Scout couldn’t help but laugh at Larry’s enthusiasm.  “It’s called a balefire, Larry.  And yep, that’s just exactly what I had in mind to do.  I’ll be back in a week or two.”

“Weeks?”  Larry’s screech was sharp enough to cut glass.  “What is it you’re not telling me?  I know there’s a man in this somewhere.  Even so, Midsummer’s a two-day affair, darling.  Three at best.”

 Scout gripped the phone against her shoulder as she swerved around a slow moving truck.  “Relax, Larry.  It’s nothing exciting, I assure you.  Just some family business I have to take care of.”

Larry was silent for so long that Scout began to think she’d lost the connection.  “I didn’t know you had family in Oberon,” he said at last, his tone unusually subdued.

Of course you didn’t.  She never discussed her family, or her past, with anyone.  She could almost hear the wheels turning in Larry’s mind as he scented a possible intrigue.  With any luck, he’d forget about it by the time she got back to LA.  And if he didn’t?  Well, then perhaps it was time for her to think about getting a new agent.

She sighed.  “I don’t have any family there, Larry.  Not anymore.”

It had been four days since she’d received the letter from the executors of her stepmother’s estate, informing her of Caroline’s death and acquainting her with the terms of her will.  She’d immediately recognized it for what it was.  A chance to redeem herself, to redress a few wrongs and maybe to – ever so slightly – even the score.  Probably the last chance she was likely to get. 

It had only taken a couple of days to set things in order. She lived alone, after all.  She worked for, and by herself. And she had studiously avoided acquiring anything that would need even the most minimal amounts of maintenance--such as a goldfish, or even a houseplant. It had been several months since her last relationship had withered quietly away from neglect and disinterest, and there was no one to whom she owed an explanation for her decision to return to Oberon.

Least of all her nosy, soon-to-be-ex-agent! 

There was no one who would even think to wonder whether it was justice she was after, or revenge.  But then, no one had wondered about it twenty years ago, either.

Back then, she’d wanted revenge.  Pure and simple.  She’d gotten it, too.  But the train of events she set in motion had run her over right along with everyone else.  And ever since then, she’d lived with the guilt of what her revenge had cost.

After promising Larry  she’d stay in touch, a promise she had every intention of ignoring, Scout hung up the phone and threw it back into her bag.  Damn him anyway.  She was fond of Larry, but he had no right to start acting like a mother hen just because she was getting out of town for a few weeks.

She pressed down harder on the gas and the Mustang leapt forward.   The long strands of her hair, loose beneath the bandana she had tied around her head, snapped in the wind.   Tears stung the corners of her eyes, and she gripped the steering wheel a little more tightly.  She had no illusions about what she was returning to.  Or, at least, not too many.  Twenty years was a hell of a long time to be away from a place.  It was very possible there wasn’t anyone left in Oberon who would remember her, or care about those long ago events.  But anyone who was had better understand one thing; she was through with taking the blame for everything that had happened back then.  It hadn’t all been her fault!  There was more than enough guilt to go around.  And she was more than willing to share.

 

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