Gemmy reveled in the drive down to Virginia beach.
She and Paris told each other so much about their childhoods, including his parents’ move back to Arlington and her mom’s death, leaving her alone with her silent father. As they pulled into Virginia Beach, Gemmy saw a giant statue of Neptune. “Oh, look!” she laughed, “They apparently worship Pagan Gods down here.”
Paris laughed, too. “Be careful. Remember that we’ve been heading South,” he said. “The bible belt is clinched even a little bit tighter, here. They’re not friendly to Pagans.”
That night, they made comfortable love to each other and fell asleep sprawled in the giant hotel bed.
The next morning found Gemmy smoothing her towel out on the beach. Paris had rubbed sunscreen all over her shoulders and back, had looked deep into her eyes, and had kissed her before heading off to listen to several lectures on native plants. Gemmy had a trashy novel, a bottle of cold water, and a floppy hat. She set herself down near the surf and spent a good half-hour grounding, listening to the waves, and focusing on the element of Air made audible in the sounds of the sea gulls who were swooping over the water.
“OK,” she told herself, “let’s see what our swarthy hero does when he finds himself alone at the ball with our feisty heroine.”
A few hours and a few chapters later, Gemmy headed up to their hotel room and showered off. She dressed in sandals and a light sundress, printed with a 1930s design of seashells and sandcastles, and went downstairs to meet Paris for lunch. The scheduled lectures seemed to have gone a bit overtime, so Gemmy wandered into the exhibit hall. Her badge said “Guest,” but no one seemed inclined to throw her out.
Gemmy walked past an exhibit on milkweed and stopped in front of a booth selling Joe Pye Weed. She took a few pictures with her cell phone and wandered over to the next booth. This one must have been well-funded. In addition to the screens showing how hives grew, there was a glass-enclosed hive, with an intact queen and all of the honey-making activity, just there for everyone to see.
Suddenly, Gemmy felt the need to ground and she ran her roots deep through the floor into the sandy earth. Her awareness shot into the hive and she located the queen almost without effort. She spent months going out with the bees into the fields, finding flowers full of nectar, and sickening whenever she came to a field sprayed with nictonitonaies. She spent weeks watching the young bees hatch and be fed on honey. She spent days watching the confused bees fly out over cities, searching for something blooming. Gemmy was deeply into the hive.
She could easily distinguish the queen from the drones and the drones from the worker bees. But deep in the center, Gemmy located what she would have called the shaman bee of the hive. Not quite drone and not quite worker, this was the bee who taught the others how to dance. And this was the bee in extremis, dancing too madly, spinning round and round as if drugged, giving off chemicals that confused the rest of the hive. This was the bee at the heart of the die-off, the one who absorbed the neonicotinoids into its body to try to save the rest of the bees but then, trying to shake off the poison, danced until it died.
Paris’ hand on her bare shoulder drew Gemmy back into the exhibit hall. “Gem, did you hear the announcer?” he asked. “You won the drawing. Do you want a small hive in your back yard? I think we can fit it over in the SouthEastern corner, or I can re-sell it at the store and give you the proceeds? You won.”
“No, don’t sell it,” Gemmy said, “I need it.”
She sat through lunch in a daze, picking at the native green salad and the grass-fed beef, the local lavender peach pie and thyme sorbet, still trying to separate herself from the hive, still trying to calm the frantic buzzing of the shaman bee.
One of the conference organizers stepped to the dias and began to introduce the luncheon speaker. “No discussion of Virginia’s native plants would be complete unless it includes the American chestnut. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our special guest, Dolly Parton, to talk to us about the work of the American Chestnut Foundation.” Gemmy turned to Paris. “Dolly Parton?”