"Here I am! Still." Ronnie Babcock was leaving her third voicemail. "Centennial Park, as per instructions. Getting worried, Lamar."
Ronnie had been circumnavigating the fountain in the center of the little plaza for half an hour. Fifty-two steps around; an even fifty if she lengthened her stride a little.
Was it the wrong place? Really, what am I doing?
She could go sit on the steps, next to the two sculptures. One sculpture was definitely a frog; she couldn't make out the other one. Maybe a monkey?
One other person on the plaza; a guy about her age. Decidedly not Lamar Carmichael. Skinny; nice shade of mocha. Little goofy-looking. Glasses; clip-ons flipped up. Looked like he literally had four eyes. He was staring into the fountain.
She coughed, nervous as always when talking to a stranger. "Excuse me -- is this Centennial Park?"
"Centennial -- yes. The Smyrna one, anyway." He didn't look up, but pulled an oversized glass beer mug out of his backpack and bent to lower it into the fountain water, staring through its bottom.
"Is there another -- what are you looking at?"
"Nothing." He stood up, taller than Ronnie's six feet. "I put Sea Monkeys in here a month ago. Wouldn't you know, there's nothing to be seen of them."
"Oh. I'm sorry." He had a coin changer on his belt, right in front. She tried not to look at it.
"Disappointing. They were too old, maybe."
"How old were they?"
"Thirty-five years." He put the mug back in his backpack. "There's another Centennial Park in Atlanta."
"This is the Smyrna-Vinings area. My mom called it Smyrnings."
"I'm meeting my -- somebody. A friend." She pulled out her printout of Lamar's last e-mail. "He says 'Centennial Park' and then these numbers. Look."
He took the paper. "It's the right place. 33.88427 is the latitude, for a GPS." He looked closer. "It says 'JewPS'."
"Right, what is that?"
"Anti-Semitic Freudian slip. Ironic."
He pointed to a bed of flowers. "Look at those. Smyrna's the 'Jonquil City'."
"These are jonquils?"
"Certainly not, jonquils are yellow."
God, he's odd. His oddness was oddly comforting; she felt she could tell him anything. She told him, "I'm Ronnie."
"I'm Wishes. Aloysius Tanager."
"Ronnie!" She turned. The monkey sculpture stood and walked toward her, and she saw it was Lamar. She'd forgotten how short he was.
"Lamar!" There was an absence; a cold space where she'd anticipated something else, when she pictured this moment. What the hell am I doing in Georgia?
Here he was, grinning. "You're already ahead!" His eyes flicked over to Wishes. Wishes flipped his clip-ons down.
Lamar's arms were around her, his head resting on her breasts. Three weeks ago, slow-dancing like that in a hotel-suite party at a sci-fi convention, the warm pressure had felt just right.
She pushed him out to arm's length. "How long were you sitting there? What do you mean, I'm ahead?"
"Cherie's a no-show!" His phone went off. Distantly, Ronnie recognized the theme music from Land of the Giants. First season.
Lamar was on the phone. "Bet you're at Centennial Olympic Park! Ha! Should have checked your JewPS, Cherie! GPS. Wait --." He activated the phone's speaker.
"-- you talking about, Lamar? Where the hell are you?" Cherie's voice carried an accent. Like Australian, but softer.
Wishes, still standing about two feet away, spoke up. "Are you from New Zealand, Cherie?"
Lamar glared at him. "Who are you?"
"Wishes, hi. What've you got against GPS?"
"Who's that?" Cherie sounded bewildered.
Ronnie had to say something. "Cherie, that's Wishes, I'm Ronnie Babcock, Lamar you already know."
Wishes asked, "Is it Einstein? GPS satellites are so precise they have to take relativistic effects into account. Does that bug you?"
Ronnie spoke to the phone. "Cherie, you met Lamar at a con, am I right?"
"Dragoncon, last year."
"Oh, please tell me you didn't move all the way from New Zealand to be with him?"
"It's a student visa, I was coming back anyway."
"How tall are you?"
"Six feet, why?"
"Quiet!" Lamar, looking put-upon, held up a stern finger. "Let's get back on track! Yes, I met you both at cons. Yes, I sent you identical letters for the sake of efficiency."
"My God, you bugger!" At last Cherie was angry. Ronnie felt a humorless laugh threatening to burst out of her chest like the thing in Alien.
Lamar kept going. "I've arranged several trials, starting with the elementary task of showing up at the correct park, so Ronnie is clearly ahead. By day's end the winner can sign the lease and move in with me."
Wishes was still on his own track. "What did GPS do to you, Man?"
Lamar shouted, "I don't need Einstein, okay? Newton and Rutherford were good enough!"
Wishes flipped up his clip-ons. "Cherie, Ernest Rutherford was born in New Zealand. Isn't that neat?"
Ronnie heard herself say, "It was sheer luck I picked the right Centennial Park."
Lamar gave her the same smile that had peeled her out of her Mrs. Peel costume at the con. "You're a lucky girl." He winked.
She was limping away, toward the library. The frog drew closer; really a nice sculpture. He was reading a book. She sat down next to him on the steps and held her throbbing left foot.
Back by the fountain, she could see Lamar curled up on the bricks. Right, it came back to her now. Her foot, his groin.
Wishes sat down next to her, opposite the frog. He held out a candy bar. "Chocolate bar? It's got almonds."
"There's nothing to go back to in Tennessee. I'm jobless and homeless." The chocolate tasted great.
"Okay, I know a place you can rent."
"What, here in Smyrnings?"
"Certainly. Welcome to Smyrnings."
"Thanks. Where is it?"
"Right near here. Can we take your car? My girlfriend swiped mine like six months ago."
To be continued ...