The Solstice Kings by Kim Fielding

1





The potted lavender was dying. Miles had known it would; he’d warned Andy that their north-facing apartment wouldn’t give the plant enough light. But Andy had bought it anyway, plopped it onto the sill of their single window, and then ignored it. Miles had done his best for the poor thing, watering it dutifully even after Andy took off, but it was a lost cause.

“Sorry.” Miles gingerly stroked a yellowing leaf. The lavender still smelled good, which made him especially sad. He sighed and hefted his battered duffel bag over one shoulder. Maybe he’d ask Deedee if she wanted the plant.

He reached his spot on the sidewalk later than usual. Deedee had already set up her violin case, seeded with a little change and some ones and fives. She was waiting for a greater number of passersby before she’d begin to play.

“Not in a statue mood today?” Miles asked as he began to hang his paintings on the wrought-iron fence. Deedee sometimes switched up her music gig with a bit of living-statue work.

She snorted. “The body paint gave me a rash. Don’t know if I’ve got a new allergy or if it was a bad batch. You don’t like my music?” She lifted her eyebrows at him.

“No, the music’s great. I thought you said your hands were sore, though.”

She waggled her fingers. “Fucking arthritis. But you know the drill, kid. We suffer for our art.”

By the time he’d arranged the paintings and set up his easel and stool, Deedee had begun to play something slow and somber. Miles knew nothing about classical music, so he didn’t know the composer or the name of the piece, but he thought it suited the morning’s mood. The sky hung gray and gloomy, and the tourists looked hungover as they trudged in search of coffee and beignets.

A middle-aged couple in matching Denver Broncos T-shirts paused in front of Miles and stared at his paintings. The man seemed attracted to one that depicted a giant oleander bush engulfing the Superdome. “Look at this one, Tabby. It’s funny.”

Tabby rolled her eyes. “How much?” she asked Miles.

“A hundred fifty.”

“That’s too much.”

He could have explained that the canvas and paint and brushes cost money, that he had to pay a city fee for his spot on the sidewalk, that it had taken him hours to create this particular piece. And that his rent was coming due. But he knew from experience that she wouldn’t care. “I can draw you guys a caricature instead. You and your husband as superheroes. Only twenty bucks.”

Tabby wrinkled her nose. “I want souvenirs that are more New Orleansy.” She and her husband marched away, presumably to buy ersatz voodoo dolls and shot glasses made in China.

Defeated, Miles sat on his stool. He’d hoped that sales would pick up with Christmas approaching, but things had been slow for weeks. It was supposed to start raining late this afternoon and not stop for two days, which would keep him at home.

“Do you want a lavender plant?” he asked when Deedee finished her song.

“A painting?”

“No, a real one. Andy bought it, but it’s dying. Not enough light.”

She propped her violin against the fence and picked up her enormous insulated coffee cup. “I could prob’ly find some room for it.” She winced as she sipped. She preferred her coffee with a lot of sugar, but her doctor said she was prediabetic and needed to cut back. She wasn’t happy about it.

“Great. I’ll bring it tomorrow—or whenever the rain stops.”

“Hmm. Maybe you oughtta think about rehoming yourself too. You’re looking kinda… meager.”

“Meager?”

She shrugged. “Like you need a change of scenery.”

Deedee was right. He liked New Orleans, but he’d been here for almost two years, which was longer than his usual stays. And with Andy gone, there was nothing to keep him. The problem was that he had no idea where else to go. Nowhere except….

“You look like you just swallowed a bug.” Deedee set down her mug but didn’t seem eager to pick up the violin again.

Miles stayed silent while a tour group strolled by, all of them intent on the guide’s discussion of Mardi Gras. He thought about not responding to Deedee at all, but she was glaring at him, one hand on her ample hip. Besides, he felt as if he owed her, seeing as she was taking on the sickly lavender. “My mom called a couple days ago. She bought me a plane ticket home for the holidays.”

“Where’s home?”