The most surprising thing about Amari was that she was never surprising when he was with her. It was only afterwards when he was trying to think of words to describe her, if he ever were to tell anyone. He always called her a girl, but said out loud, that sounded like a five-year old. She was as tall as one of the young women who danced every Friday night in the village. She was far older than that though she didn’t look it and she never counted. Still, the word “girl” stuck in his mind.
She was a pretty girl, rich and golden, with thick brown hair, but you never wanted to kiss her. She didn’t seem to be the kind of girl who could ever be shy, one who could stare straight at you without shame. She was the kind of girl that could be nude, but never naked. All you wanted was to make her laugh, and that was easy enough.
Her laughter didn’t sound like bells, and her voice was hardly silver, but it was bright and satisfied.
And when it was all said, it was all these things that were the most surprising. Not the way that sunflowers bloomed in her hair and twined between her toes. Not that she was one of the Hill People, one from the Summer Cave, where Aparis the Summer Sun held his court. Not the way the snow melted under her bare feet.
Not that she was Amari of the Summer Flowers, sister of Aparis the Summer Sun.
There were stories, child’s tales, about a cave where the Summer Sun, Aparis, rested in the winter and brought his court of flowers and birds to entertain him, while his weaker brother, Lumis, took over. It was where the birds went, where the geese flew. When children cried because there were no more frogs in the pond, the grandmothers said, “Don’t worry, they’ve gone to the cave of Aparis.”
Before he saw her, he dismissed them. Adults had no reason for fairytales.
And he hadn’t understood why she had appeared then when only five-year-olds believed in them. The adults had trains and newspapers to entertain them. And there were reports about big glasshouses in the great city two oceans and a desert away where they caged pieces of summer and grew strawberries with snow all around them.
It was the story about the glasshouses that made him stop and pay more attention to the snowbank. It made him think about flowers and his own stint as a florist assistant, and at first, he thought the yellow was a daffodil. Perhaps spring was finally coming. He had sometimes felt a warm breeze. But this was a black-eyed Susan and there were no glass houses around here.
He followed the yellow flowers and spots of melted snow. When he found her, she was delighting herself in dipping her bare feet in the cold snow and tracing flowing vine patterns. Sunflowers were blooming in her hair. She saw him but did not seem to care. He was welcome to stay, he was welcome to go.
He asked if she was a Hill Person.
“Is that what you call us?” she laughed, “I’m Amari.”
In the old stories, when the Hill People came out, they were supposed to do things, demand tasks, offer traitorous gifts, or offer quests. Perhaps, she could offer some great life-changing advice but she did not seem that serious.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just visiting,” she said, “He gets lonely, sometimes.”
“Who?” he asked.
“Lumis,” she said.
Lumis was supposed to be the Winter Sun, the weaker brother of Aparis. None of the stories cared much for him. People loved his brother. Aparis the strong, the rich, the giver. The bringer of warmth and light, the one who raised the harvest. Aparis who made men strong, full, and happy. But every winter, Aparis left to his gilded cave to hold court and entertain himself, feasting, and making merry. Instead, they got Lumis. Lumis was sometimes as brilliant as his brother, but always cold. Men watched their curses puff white out of their mouths. No one knew whether it was by incompetence or malice that Lumis let them shiver.
“He works so hard,” she said, “and people are so mean. He tries so hard, and all you do is complain. “
He had expected a Hill Person to get angry, he didn’t expect her to sound hurt.
“Well, yes, I try to come up here,” she said, “to try to be supportive. He’s family, you know. Besides, Aparis doesn’t need me. You guys do, but he doesn’t.”
“But, what about...?” he reached, his childhood stories still dusty in his mind.
“Oh, that old tale? Staring and following him through the sky all day. Well, I guess, when you’re young, you go look up at your oldest brother. It’s just natural. But I’m older now, I’ve grown roots of my own. He’s a little too popular. And sometimes he lets it go to his head. He’s burned my flowers before.” She petted one of the petals that had popped up between her toes. “But Lumis, is different. I like him. He makes it easier to breathe. It’s fun, you know, to watch your breath like smoke. But sometimes, with Aparis, your air has to swim just to get out.”
“Oh, sneaking out is no issue!” Her smile faded a little, “It’s really crowded up there. Really, you’d be surprised at how little they pay attention to me down there. The problem is that no matter how hard I try, I mess up his work. I do try not to touch anything but it melts anyway. But I still want to see him. And he says it’s ok. He’s such a dear, he really is. He always listens.”
“So, you…you end Winter?” he asked.
“Oh, no! I’m not Spring! That’s Vera. They don’t get along well. They’re always quarreling. She can be a bit manipulative. She wants to take over as soon as possible, even if he’s not finished yet. And she throws fits. There are terrible storms. Well, of course, she always wins. She makes him feel horrible. And you guys don’t help at all. I swear. You really are cruel.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He had to go back to work.
He looked back at Amari, talking excitedly and weaving flower crowns at the bottom of the tree. A pale blue figure perched on the tree above her, listening and nodding.
Now, he keeps an eye out for flowers in the snow, smiles at the way she guiltily brushes snow back over her yellow blooms to prevent disturbing her brother’s work.
He has met her once or twice in the summer. He has never met Lumis.
“He’s sleeping now,” she said, braiding some dandelions together, as they both splashed in the warm water. “He works so hard.”
He doesn’t curse the winter anymore. He doesn’t like it but he keeps quiet, shoves the snow off the sidewalk but keeps his mouth shut. There’s a girl of yellow flowers he doesn’t want to sadden and he knows her pale brother makes her smile.