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man in the moon

Fic: The Man In The Moon ("Mare Imbrium" - Part II)

Posted on 2008.02.02 at 13:27
Affectus (State of Mind): busybusy
Camena (Music): "Dream Baby" - Roy Orbison
Tags: ,

Originally posted to Copper For A Kiss on 24 January 2008 @ 12:59 am.

Fic: Mare Imbrium (2.2/6 of The Man In The Moon) - this chapter has been split into four parts due to size
Author:  Green Owl
Rating:  PG (
Frankie and Ethan insult Kaylee's car and each other, River has severe book lust)
Summary:  AU. 
River Tam meets many people in our cast.
Previous Chapters:  Pareidolia (Prologue), Mare Imbrium (Part 1)

I don't own or buy/sell/process this mind crack - I just abuse the hell out of it.

two boys who had come with Kaylee were lanky, lean and deeply sundarkened with black hair and hazel eyes.  Despite their similarities, they looked nothing alike.  Kaylee introduced the taller one as Ethan Cheng and the shorter one as Frankie Hammond.

“Mornin’,” they said in unison as they swarmed around River’s trunk and hefted it easily.

“Aren’t they sweet?” Kaylee said, linking her arm through River’s and following the boys to the car.

“Do I tip them?” River asked, dabbing at her forehead again as she experienced the dichotomous mix of the boys’ personalities – Ethan, calm and thin-skinned; Frankie, volatile and hard-headed.

“Sakes, no!” Kaylee cried.  “All they need is your thanks and maybe a pop and they’re right happy.”

“Pop?” River queried, trying to keep her face composed as she recollected and parsed Kaylee’s previous usage of the word.  I need to get them each a father?

“No.  It’s, ya know, soda,” Kaylee replied.

River gave her a blank look.  “Soda?”

“It’s somethin’ to drink.  Has bubbles in it,” Kaylee clarified.

“Do you mean champagne?”

Kaylee giggled, but there was nothing remotely cruel about the sound.  “Aintcha never had pop?”

“I don’t think so,” River said.

“Well we’re gonna hafta do somethin’ ‘bout that!” Kaylee announced cheerfully.

They arrived at a vehicle that was parked awkwardly in the space it occupied.  It was large ground-based automobile that had obviously seen better days and where it wasn’t rusted, it was the color of polished silver.  It had a white hardtop, four doors and an extended rear cargo area.  The door to the trunk made a noise somewhere between a rusty creak and a loud clank as Frankie opened it.

“One of just fifteen Haymer concept vehicles ever produced, this one was modeled after the 1956 Chevy Nomad,” Kaylee said in a low, thrilling voice as the boys loaded the trunk into the back.  “Full-width grille, round pod taillights, L-shaped side trim, elliptical rear wheel openings and the amazing Chevrolet V8 engine!  Ain’t it just a perfect dream of a car?”

River privately wondered if the “amazing engine Chevrolet V8 engine” would manage to run.  If looks were indicative of innards, they were probably going to be walking to her aunt’s house.

“It’s my baby.  I call her ‘Diana’ ‘cause she’s my silver chariot,” Kaylee confided in a blissful whisper as she gripped River’s hand.  She then turned to the boys, “Buy you each a pop?”

“That’d hit the spot!” Ethan said, slinging an arm around Frankie.  “Pretty boy ain’t working the family business this summer so he doesn’t get the nepotist’s special discount anymore.”

Frankie slugged him playfully in the stomach.  “Like you need anyone to buy you anything, swank!”

The boys continued to good-naturedly rib each other as they crossed the street and entered a pastel green storefront with a green and white striped awning and “Hammond’s Confectionery” painted in cool white letters across the large plate glass windows.

As they followed them in, River took the opportunity to ask her cousin a question that was starting to preoccupy her mind.

“Kaylee, what does ‘swank’ mean?”

Kaylee looked a little shocked.  “Don’t let Pop catch ya saying that word, River!  And if’n he does and you say I told ya, I’ll deny it ‘til the end of Shadow.  It’s a swear word.”

“Swear word?” River asked, mystified. How could a word be “sworn”?

“A word you ain’t supposed to say,” Kaylee clarified as she opened the door.

All thoughts of “swanks” and "swear words” vacated River’s mind as the blessed chill of the air-conditioned shop brought immediate relief from the heat of the day and she took a look around.

Hammond’s Confectionery was a visual feast for the eyes and the stomach with the long glass counter displaying all sorts of chocolates and candies and the wall behind the counter lined with glass jars containing sweets whose names and ingredients River could only imagine.  There were also containers and barrels of all kinds of nuts and wrapped treats, and on the opposite side of the shop, a tempting display of ice cream flavors, various types of cones, an immense collection of glasses grouped according to shape, and a series of metal dispensers arching from the counter.

“Dazzlin’, ain’t it?” Kaylee said, gesturing to displays of candy, some enclosed in bits of paper, others in plastic, and others loose in their jars and canisters.  “I could spend all of my bits here with no trouble!”

“I think I am experiencing Stendhal’s Syndrome,” River muttered, mesmerized by the vast array of shapes and hues, both mixed and separate, that battered her retinas.

“That ain’t contagious, is it?” Kaylee asked, glancing nervously at River.

“No,” River said in a faraway voice as she attempted to ground herself by mentally estimating the number of jelly beans in one of the fifty dispensers that lined the top part of a wall.  “Psychosomatic reaction to surfeit of beauty and/or choice.”

“Do you need to sit down or somethin’?” Kaylee asked, unsure of what to do.

“Unnecessary,” River answered, dragging her eyes away from the jelly beans and looking for a focal point to steady herself.  She found it in the two people at the far end of the shop:  a woman behind the counter, a man in front of it.  “Uncle Mal?”

As he turned and recognized her, she felt a wash of paternal flavoring – protective and wily and secretly tender – and breathed easy again as her swiftly tilting world returned to center.

“Hey, little bit!” Mal called, greeting her by raising the wax-paper bag he held in right hand.  “Won’t be but a minute!”

“Is that your niece?” the girl behind the counter asked.  She bore a strong resemblance to Frankie with her hazel eyes, dark hair, finely shaped nose and slim build.

“I think so,” Mal said, extending his arm to gather River against him in a quick, welcoming hug that prevented her from curtseying.  “Haven’t seen her since I got hitched, but she looks a helluva lot like my very lovely and extremely pregnant wife, so I’ll take it on faith that she is, in fact, Miss River Tam.  You are, aren’t you?  Please say yes, or else I’m hugging a complete stranger!”

“Yes, I am,” River said, smiling up at him.  He felt like her father, but more easily flustered.  She knew in an instant that there would be no whippings from Uncle Mal.

The question of food deprivation in the case of misbehavior was still undecided, though.

“Golly, it’s so exciting to meet someone from the Core!  Welcome to Shadow, River,” the girl said, extending her hand.  “I’m Dinah Hammond.”

Nothing.  She felt nothing coming from the girl.  How odd and…soothing.

River took Dinah’s hand and shook it gently.  “Are you the proprietor of this establishment?”

“Do I own the place?” Dinah asked, surprised.  “Heck no!  My pa, Doc Hammond, does.”

“My brother is a doctor.  Is your father one as well?” River asked, feeling her stomach contract as she tried to ignore the temptation of the chocolate and – oh, my, is that peanut butter…? how yummy! – that sat in the case right before her nose.

“Nope, they just call him that because folks swear his candies cure all known cravings,” Dinah said, sliding open the case in front of her and selecting one of the treats over which River was salivating.  She placed it on a piece of wax paper and slid it over to River.  “Here, have a try.  They’re a family recipe.  We call them peanut butter blossoms.”

“Thank you very much,” River said, fishing through her purse for her bankcard.  “What is the price, if you please?”

“It’s on the house,” Dinah said with a quick smile.  “On account of Mr. Serra being our best customer.”

“Hey, it’s my wife who’s craving the circus peanuts by the pound, not me!” Mal corrected with mock seriousness.

River tried not to laugh as she nibbled on the confection.  It was every bit as wonderful as she thought it might be.

“Pop, I’m gonna steal River if’n it’s okay with you,” Kaylee said, taking the hand that River wasn’t holding the candy.  “Gonna buy her a pop – her first one, can ya believe it?!”

“No lie?” Mal said, grinning at his daughter and niece.  “What do they make you drink on them Core planets?  Nothing but plum wine and lemonwater?”

“Sometimes I’ll have a protein shake, but only as a meal replacement,” River explained hurriedly as Kaylee led her away from one counter to the other.  Evidently, the word “pop” had two meanings –

“Let’s get the boys squared away and I’ll introduce ya to Frankie’s other sister,” Kaylee said, bellying up to the bar and inviting River to do the same.

River looked at the girl standing behind the other counter.  She was so unlike her Frankie and Dinah that River would never have thought her to be related to them.  Their faces were oval and hers was heart-shaped.  She was a fair-haired blonde to their deep brunets and her eyes were pale blue to their dark hazel.  Her pink-white skin looked like it would not take kindly to exposure to the sun, while Frankie sported a deep tan and Dinah’s was that shade of ivory that would be sun-kissed by the end of the month.

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows. 

It was just the same as River’s mother when she went out with her dark-haired husband and dark-haired children, but that was the contrariness that was genetics.

River braced herself for the golden girl’s energy, expecting something akin to her mother’s deep space freeze.

It didn’t come.

“You must be River Tam,” the girl said in a soft vibrant voice that brought to mind the roses that rambled up trellises in Grandmother Serra’s garden.  “I’m Mary Hammond.  Welcome to Hazard.”

River smiled back at Mary, taking to her in spite of the pastel loveliness that reminded her of her mother.  Perhaps it was the spray of dark gold freckles across the bridge of her nose or the dimple that winked in and out of her left cheek, but Mary Hammond was warm bread, fresh from the oven, to Regan Tam’s caviar-topped toast points.

“I’m very happy to meet you,” River said, her words prompted by her reaction to the girl, rather than her breeding.

“So what’ll it be, boys?” Kaylee asked Ethan and Frankie.

“Cherry coke, Miss Mary,” Ethan ordered, leaning on an elbow.

“Lemon,” Frankie said, slapping his hand down on the counter.  “And be quick about it, eh, lil’ sis?”

River felt a pang of yearning for Simon’s teasing as Mary mischievously stuck her tongue out at her brother.

“Strawberry, please,” Kaylee requested.

River reviewed the enormous menu posted above the mirror that reflected their images until she located a list with all of the flavorings that had been previously mentioned.  “May I please have a ‘vanilla coke’?”

“Coming right up!” Mary said.

River watched with fascination as she performed a sort of serving ballet, selecting glasses, drawing the fizzy liquid from the taps of the steel arches and mixing in the requested flavorings.  She served them up with fancy little napkins beneath the glasses as River once more dug into her purse for her bankcard.

She presented it and was taken aback when Mary gently pointed out a sign next to the menu.  “Sorry, River, cash-only.”

“Oh,” River said, her cheeks warming.  “Do you know where I might find a credit-dispenser?”

“Two towns over,” Ethan said, taking a long sip of his cherry coke.  “And the banks don’t open until Monday.”

River’s blush spread from her cheeks all the way to her hairline and collarbone. 

Why, oh why hadn’t she read up on the customs and forms of payment for this town? 

Oh yes, she’d been rebelling against her parents by looking up Finnish grammar instead of the planet briefing on the Cortex before she landed.

“Don’t worry, River, I’ll spot ya ‘til ya get some cash,” Kaylee offered, pulling a wad of credits from her pocket.  “How much is it, Mary?”

Mary named a figure and Kaylee paid her while River smiled her thanks and made a mental note to pay Kaylee back at her first opportunity.  She gingerly took a sip of her beverage and immediately started coughing as the carbonation hit her sinuses.

Kaylee slapped her on the back as she finished a long draft of her drink.  “Superlative, ain’t it?”

River’s eyes watered as she nodded and took another, more careful sip.

Mary tried to give Kaylee her change back, but Kaylee shook her head.

“Keep it,” Kaylee said, her eyes dancing.  “Use it to buy Frankie some manners.”

Mary and Ethan laughed, but Frankie frowned.

“Hey!  I carried your cousin’s heavy-ass trunk to that decrepit piece of lo se you like to refer to as your car.  Show a little respect, Frye!”

“Diana ain’t lo se!” Kaylee protested.  “See if I ever give your sorry pi gu a lift again!”

“And you had help with that trunk, Hammond, remember?” Ethan corrected, almost as riled as Kaylee.

“Don’t remind me!” Frankie said, rolling his eyes.  “I did most of the work, slacker.”

“No use remindin’ you, ‘cause it’s just gonna go in one ear and out the other,” Ethan retorted.  “No question who got the short end of the ‘brains’ stick in your family, eh, Miss Mary?”

“Kaylee,” River whispered as the boys launched into yet another round of sarcastic insults, “Why did he call you ‘Frye’?  I thought your last name was Serra.”

“’Cause even though she’s my daughter, she had the good fortune to be another, slightly more respectable, couple’s child,” Mal said, sticking his face between Kaylee’s and River’s.  “Time to go, girls.  We gotta get home before Inara decides she wants my gizzard for dessert instead of these here poof-shaped sugar thing-a-ma-bobs.  Oh yeah, I’m driving, so hand ‘em over, Kaylee.”

Kaylee reluctantly surrendered her keys to her father before she and River took a moment to quickly finish their drinks and say goodbye to the Hammond girls and Frankie and Ethan, who continued to bicker even as they were leaving the confectionery.

“Pop, you sure you want Momma to have a son?” Kaylee asked as she guided River to the passenger’s side and slid into the back seat.  “Seems to me they’re more trouble than they’re worth.”

For the first time that day, River was grateful for the length and weave of her outfit.  The leather seats were very, very hot.

Mal sighed dramatically as he turned over the engine.  As River predicted, it protested for a few seconds before roaring to life.  “Absolutely, little Kaylee.  Can’t take you womenfolk bossin’ me ‘round, drownin’ me in all them female hormones for very much longer.  Gonna unman me if I don’t get another boy in the family soon.”

River dabbed at her neck again with the handkerchief and Mal noticed.  “Sorry ‘bout the air-conditioning, little bit.  Just another thing on the long list of ‘to-fix’ that Kaylee’s got with regards to this junker.”

“Diana’s not a junker, Pop!  An’ I already told ya, I’m gettin’ round to it!” Kaylee protested.  “I fixed the brakes so’s they stop now, didn’t I?”

“Something for which I am extremely grateful,” Mal replied, rolling down his window and indicating to River where the handle was so she could do the same.

“That’s the general store, River,” Kaylee pointed out as they sped down Main Street.  “And over there’s the drug store, and the market and Mel’s Drive-In.  It’s so shiny!  Did you ever eat at a place in the Core where you could just pull your car right up and they’d bring your food, like literally, to the door?”

“No,” River replied, remembering the ornate restaurants that her parents brought their children to so they could show off Simon and River’s exquisite table manners. 

She rather liked the look of the place with its cozy angles, fresh colors and neon lights and wondered if they took bankcards.

“Best burgers I’ve ever had!” Kaylee declared.

Only burgers you’ve ever had,” Mal countered.

What is a burger? River thought.

“Maybe so,” Kaylee said, refusing to lose any enthusiasm, “But they’re still the best!  Oooh, there’s the bowling alley!  You ever bowl, River?”

“No,” River said, craning her head to view the sign as they passed, hoping for some clarity on what “bowling” entailed.

“Gosh, you sure are deprived!” Kaylee said with a sweet laugh.  “Well ya just had yer first pop, so it’s only a matter of time before we getcha in some snappy-lookin’ shoes and rollin’ that ball down the lane.  You’re gonna love it!  Best bang for your pleasure bucks in this town!”

Are we supposed to shoot deer there? River wondered.

“Little Kaylee only says that ‘cause gets a discount on account she’s the fastest and most reliable repair-girl for their pinsetters,” Mal volunteered.

“And it’s air-conditioned,” Kaylee added with a grin.

River had no idea what a “pinsetter” was, but the idea of air-conditioning was more than welcome.  The air blowing in the windows was helping some to cool her down, but it was still very hot and humid and her feet were literally sweating inside their black leather flats.  She was looking forward to a shower, a nap and dinner when they got to the house, in that order…dinner…oh yes!

“Uncle Mal, Mrs. Cobb invited all of us to come to their home tomorrow for something called a ‘bar-buh-cue’,” River said, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

“All right!” Kaylee squealed, bouncing around in the back seat.  “Mr. Cobb always cooks the best hot dogs, all nice and black and charred!”

“You eat dogs on Shadow?” River asked, more than a bit alarmed.  She’d seen advertisements for fresh Golden Labrador on one of the ship’s menus, but her stomach turned over at the mere thought.

“Naw, just a figure of speech,” Mal replied.  “It’s kind of a sausage-y dish, but the stuff they put in them – no denyin’ it’s mighty tasty – is almost as bad.”


“I expect it’ll take you some time to get your bearings, little bit, what with all this new vocabulary,” Mal said with a companionable pat on her hand.  “Feel free to ask questions, though.   Kaylee’s on the q-tip when it comes to the straight-up skinny.”

River didn’t understand one word of that last sentence, but she thought she got the gist of it. 

She imagined it would take the withdrawal from her education to make her feel brainless, but this odd verbiage and syntax was making her feel more like Hazard’s village idiot with every second that passed. 

Might as well get used to it.  Ten weeks of survival before I can go home and spend some quality time with my librochips…

She glanced down at her lap and then back up at the street in time to glimpse a friendly little brick building covered in ivy before they flew by it.

“What was that?” she asked Kaylee.

“Library,” Kaylee said.  “Not bad for these parts.  Also air-conditioned.”

River felt a surge of covetousness slam into her gut.

“Don’t even think about it,” Mal cautioned, waggling a finger at her as he drove.  “I have specific instructions not to let you anywhere near that place.”

“Why, Pop?” Kaylee asked, plain curious.

“Because Cousin River is, to quote my sister-in-law, ‘to be playing outside or engaging in other social activities at all times, no books’,” Mal replied.

River would have laughed out loud at his dead-on impression of her mother if not for the pain that was pressing on her heart like a weight.  How could her father have forgotten his promise to arrange for a play-study exchange?

“Don’t be gloomy, River,” Kaylee said, resting her chin on the back of the seat next to her cousin’s shoulder.  “We’re gonna have tons and tons of adventures.  It’ll be shiny, tracker’s honor!”

As she smiled at Kaylee, River made mental calculations as to how far the library was from the house and how long it might take to walk there and how much water she’d have to carry with her to keep from dropping along the way from dehydration.

“I can smell what’s cookin’ in your brainpain, little bit,” Mal said offhandedly as he turned onto a tree-lined road.  “The librarian has your image and she’s promised to not even allow you into the building.”

Drat!  Double drat!

“How did you know – ?” River asked, turning her head to look at her uncle.

“What you was thinking?  Inara gets the same look on her face when she’s plotting something.  After five years of wedded bliss, I’m pretty sure I know my wife and all her tricks,” Mal said smugly. 

Kaylee stifled a giggle and River slid her eyes back to the road in front of them, keeping her face carefully composed.

Obviously, there were things that “the women” in the family knew, did or planned to do to which the lone male was not privy. 

River felt a moment’s satisfaction as she realized that she might be able to find a way around this ridiculous moratorium on printed material.

* * * * *

lo so – garbage

pi gu – backside

Prompted by and dedicated to romanceguru.


Much affection,

Green Owl

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