Oh My Gourd

Oh My Gourd

The last thing Clio Monell expected herself to be doing fresh out of college was slinging giant turkey legs at the Gourd County Ren Faire. But when her father is forced into early retirement as her baby brother starts his college career, and her museum internship ends without a job, the life she’s known comes to an end. Bunking down with her parents and struggling with disillusions, she finds solace and hope in a new world full of cosplay, magic, and Vikings. One particular golden-haired Viking to be exact.

Norway transplant and Medieval Studies expert Thordis Olsen left Norway to take a job as a professor and lead chair in their historical department of the local college. Missing the culture of his people and the Viking lifestyle he indulged in heavily, he found kindred souls at the G.C.R.F. Trying to adapt and carve out a new life, he longs to find the love that eluded him in his own country.

Can two people from different places be each other’s missing pieces?

 

 

Chapter One

Clio

Inhaling deeply, Clio Monell reapplied a fresh coat of Fenty PMS Matte lipstick to her plump lips and re-powdered her dark brown face. Adding a bit of Lil Bronzer to the planes of her cheekbones, she refreshed the apples of her round cheeks with an alternating shade. Make-up could be a type of armor, and at the moment, she was headed into battle. Today was the final day of her internship at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which meant it was time for her final interview with her boss. She needed to score a permanent position in the worst way. Dedicating herself here had been a risk since it meant going without a paying job for a time. Time to see if the gamble pays off.

 Landing the position in the European, Paintings, Sculptures, and Drawings department six months ago straight out of college was a blessing. An actual position related to her History Degree left her incredibly grateful Now though, Mama needs a paycheck. Her parents had been floating her, and having them pay her bills and give her allowance made her feel like a child playing at being a grown-up.

Fluffing her angular bob, she smoothed down the burnt yellow shirt with the ruffled-half sleeves trimmed in black, straightened the cute accent tie. The black pencil skirt balanced out the pop of bright color and highlighted her curvy six sixteen frames. Three-inch heels finished off the polished look and added three inches to her five foot- eight height, giving her an extra boost of confidence. Stepping back, she turned away from the mirror and exited the bathroom with her head held high. She’d poured everything into this potion.

Staving off invitations from college friends to arrive at the crack of dawn, keeping herself available with a friendly smile, helping hands, and never complaining about the tasks she was given. Reaching the office of her supervisor, Carmen Kendall, she rapped on the door lightly and opened the door. The petite woman with streaks of silver through the thick brown hair she had pulled back into a bun lifted her head from the paperwork on her desk and smiled

“Please come in, Clio.” 

Stepping inside, she smiled, hiding the nerves turning her guts into a pinwheel in the middle of a windstorm. She searched her kind dark blue eyes for a sign of which was this was about to go, but they remained neutral along with her oval-shaped face. Her thin lips were curved up into a small smile as she gestured toward the chair opposite her.  Sinking into the faux black leather chair, Clio crossed her legs and clasped her hand together to hid the fact that they were shaking.

“I want to start this exit interview off by saying you’ve done an incredible job here, Clio. The staff loves you, and I’ve enjoyed helping you cultivate your career path post-college graduation. You have a real passion for history and love of Art that’s necessary to treat each and every exhibit with the respect and reverence it deserves.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Kendall.”

The summarized tone smacked of goodbye. “I’m sensing a but here,” she said quietly. Mrs. Kendall sighed heavily, and her stomach bottomed out.

“I fought for you, Clio. I really did. We’d love to have you on staff with us on a permanent basis.”

Her chest tightened, and her temples throbbed as her blood raced through her veins. Her funds were limited, and the lease was up on her apartment at the end of the month. The thought of pushing her father’s generosity any further made her ill. “May I ask what I could’ve done that might’ve led to a different outcome?”

Mrs. Kendall frowned and shook her head. “Nothing,” she said softly. She glanced around nervously. “Off the record?”

“Yes?” Clio leaned forward and nodded.

“The position went to a senior curator’s nephew, who had a smidge more experience.

So, we’re back to the battle of who you know?

“I understand.” While her exterior remained calm, internally, she raged.

“I’ve written you a letter of recommendation.” Her face grew hot. Doing her best to nod in the right places, she heard a roaring her ears as her palms grew sweaty. Time warped as she robotically signed her exit paperwork, took her letters. Gathering her small box of accumulated items in her workspace, she left the office with a final handshake. Stepping out of the office, life looked completely different. Each step proved to be a struggle. Her heels echoed loudly on the marble tile. The smell of floor polisher and the freshly brewed coffee from the café brought tears to her eyes. Struggling to keep the liquid at bay, she inhaled and exhaled, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other as she smiled at those who gave her friendly waves or stopped her progress to wish her well.

She all but ran the last few feet outside. Thunder rumbled in the distance. A slash of lightning lit up the sky. Sprinkles turned to a downpour. Why not? Walking down the ramp, she ignored the deluge. Snap. She stumbled as her heel gave way.

“Oh, come on.” Limping the rest of the way to her parking spot, she fumbled with her keys, unlocked the door and tossed her box into the passenger side of the car. How the hell am I going to tell my family? They’d been so supportive of her taking this opportunity, and sure she’d be hired on. Shame settled over her like a shroud, further sucking the joy from her soul.

Driving on auto-pilot, she drove past her studio apartment and continued on to her parents. Her mother would be at work at the hospital where she ran the front desk, and her father rarely arrived home before five o’clock. She needed the time to get her mind back together and find the words to tell them she’d failed them. After four years of pricey college it felt like an insult. Indigestion bubbled up in her stomach like lava and threatened to climb up her throat like an eruption. Turning the corner, she spotted her father’s black SUV, and her heart jumped up into her throat. Something’s wrong.

Pushing the pedal, she rushed into the driveway, through her car into park, and hobbled her way onto the porch. Fumbling with the lock, she turned the key in the tumbler and stumbled inside to find her father seated on the Navy blue velvet tufted couch. Tie undone and hanging cock-eyed around his neck, and neck exposed by the undone buttons, and a beer in one hand, he looked frazzled.

“Dad? What’s going on?” she asked cautiously.

“My company is bring bought out. They’re giving me the option of early retirement.”

“Can you do that?” she asked, kicking off what remained of her heels. Her father had been the bread winner for as long as she could remember. A work-a-holic, he’d always been the man in the suit kissing her on her forehead before he left work before she and her brother Wade.

“Yes. I hadn’t planned on it with Wade just starting college, but we can make it work. Thank God, you’re already graduated.”

“Yeah?” The knife in her chest twisted, burrowing deeper. I can’t ask him for anything right now.

He took a long draw from his beer. “What are you doing here so early?”

Not asking for another loan.  

“I had a setback. The museum let me go. They decided to with a different candidate, one who according to the grapevine was the nephew of a higher up.”

His face fell. “I’m sorry baby. Nepotism gets us all sometimes.” He shook his head “You worked your ass off to get that internship, and the entire way through. You deserved the position. Never doubt that.” The words warmed her. “What are you going to do now?”

Swallowing her pride, she accepted the shift in her life. “Find the first job I can get my hand on. I wondered if I could come back home for a while. My lease needs to be resigned and I don’t feel comfortable making that move with everything so uncertain.” The words tasted like sawdust in her throat.

“Of course.”

Her shoulders slouched, and he put his arm around her pulling her to his side. “Honey I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you the way we all hoped they would, but these things happen. It takes time to launch yourself in the beginning.”

“Yeah.”

He squeezed her. “I worked my way up from the bottom and you will too.”

“I’ll get to work on clearing things out.” The thought of disassembling her sanctuary hurt her heart. Instead of starting her life, she was moving backward.

“With Wade gone, it’ll be nice not to start the empty nesting just yet. To be honest. I’m worried your mother and I may drive ourselves crazy until she gets used to having me underfoot.”

She laughed. “You’ll be fine, Dad.”

“Hmm.” He sipped his beer and they sat side by side in silent consideration.

“Does Mom know?”

“Not yet. You’re the first. I came home early to get used to the thought.”

“When will you be retiring?”

“About a month or two. They want me to train my replacement first. Can you believe that?” He shook his head.

“I’m going to get out of here before mom comes home. You two should be able to talk alone without me here.”

“She’s going to want to hear all about today.”

“I know. I’ll tell her about moving back in. You have enough bad news to share.”

“Never bad when I get to spend more time with my favorite girl,” her said kissing the top of her head.

“Thanks, Daddy,” she whispered, swallowing around the knot in her throat. Pushing her self off the couch, she rose. Walking over to the door, she grabbed her shoes, and walked to the kitchen. Pitching them in the garbage, she walked out barefooted. “I’ll talk to you later.” She kissed his cheek, and retreated. The day was shaping up to be craptastic all the way around. If whoever has a voodoo doll of me, I’d appreciate it if you stop sticking the pins in now. The dashboard clock read four-thirty, but it felt more like midnight. Sliding behind the wheel, she started the car and pulled out the driveway, and eased into traffic.

The phone rang and her best friend Jennie’s name flashed on the screen. She groaned. Time to replay the failure. Answering the phone.

“Hey Jen.”

“Don’t hey Jen, how was it?”

“I didn’t get the position.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because someone was related to someone basically.”

“Well shit.”

“Yeah. I asked my Dad if I could move in. Turns out he has to retire early because his company is getting bought out. I can’t ask him to spot me anymore money.”

“I get it. Damn. Do you want me to come over?”

“I’d be crap company right now, honestly I kind of want to lick my wounds.”

“Hey. This is just making way for something better.”

“I wish I had your certainty,” Clio muttered.

“You’re too good a person to not have things line up for you. Just stay prayed up and keep your eyes open. I’ll do the same.”

“Thanks Jen.” Her best friend since grade school days at St. Mary’s she always made the worst situations seem better.

“I love you. Call me if you change your mind about company or just want to talk.”

“I will. Love you too.”

“This weekend the Gourd County Renaissance Faire will continuing their hiring process. If you’re looking to build your acting portfolio, love history, or enjoy dressing up, this is the perfect position for you.” The wheels in her head began to turn. Beggars can’t be choosers.

 

 

THORDIN

A sea of brown cardboard boxes surrounded Thordin Olsen in the empty living room of his four-bedroom 1.5 bath home. His entire life had been sorted and packed away in boxes, that were shipped across the ocean ahead of him. Spinning in a circle, he felt the isolation kick in like a snare drum. It’d been a serious leap of faith accepting the position at the college. It required him to leave behind everything and everyone he knew in Norway. Saying no hadn’t been an option when he was getting the position of his dreams, a full-time job not only teaching, but working as the head of the Viking studies Minor department.

He loved history in general, but that particular time and people who’d been his ancestors held a special place in his heart.  It was as if the Viking blood that ran through his veins also affected his spirit. From his thick shoulder length wheat colored hair and icy blue eyes to his larger frame and interest in the pagan gods and the concept that certain aspect of the old religion Asatru felt true for him. Surely his forebears passed down their spiritual gifts, endowing him with the desire to know, love, and inform others about their traditions, and past.

He’s been an active member in a Viking reenactment group, learned to shoot a bow, wield swords, and made a hobby of crafting things from leather and wood. Working with his hands placed him in a zen zone that let him recharge from the stresses of daily lives. Stepping around the opened box of leather working supplies, he walked into the bedroom and spotted the wood carving of the two ravens in flight. The sign that had made his final decision for him.

***

Griping the steering wheel tight, he took the curves in the road as fast as he dared. We’d love to keep you on, but it’s not in our budget. The words haunted him, chasing him up the steep incline. It was the kiss of death he’d gotten over and over as he chased the dream of tenure and a long-term position in college. At this point he was more vagabond than scholar as he went through the job hunt circuit like he had bad work ethic. The definition of insanity was doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. It was why he’d applied out of the country. He never expected them to give him a call back, and put him through interviews. Now he had a job offer waiting for him to accept or decline.

He hadn’t so much as mentioned his interest in relocating internationally and now if he accepted the offer, he had a month to get his things in order and make the move. Time stopped for no one. At thirty-five this was his first chance to have his dream job. His life was here in Oslo. All of his family, his closest friends, and fellow Viking cosplayers. The list of reasons that held him were lengthy, but they no longer outweighed the feeling of dissatisfaction he had with direction his career and personal life had taken. Like an airplane stuck in a hold pattern, he lacked the ability to fully launch.

White flakes came at him, he felt his stomach lurch with apprehension. His intense connection to his Norse ancestors, lead him to adapt an off beat ‘system of beliefs that combined his Catholic upbringing with figure heads from the old religion Asatru. Where Freya, Odin and others were seen as gods who acted more as kinsman, he pictured them as guardians or saints. He’d always gravitated toward them Odin who’d quested for knowledge among other things. Odin give me a sign and the strength to make the right decision. The size of the flakes grew and he turned on his windshield wipers.

By the time he reached the general store, the snow was coming down unapologetically creating a blanket of white that would be beautiful to observe from the inside of a warm building, but not to drive in. There must’ve been two to three inches in the last thirty-minutes. Pulling into the deserted parking lot, his spirits plummeted when he saw the closed sign. In order for them to pack in early, the storm projected must be nasty. Backing out he felt the urgency overtake him as he tried to outrun the storm. Fishtailing his heart leapt into his throat. Turning into the swerve and manhandling the wheel, he righted the car. The temperature dropped, and he cranked up the heat, clicking the speed up on the wipers. Tension stiffened the muscles in his body. Irony slapped him in his face like a woman offended by crass behavior. He’d spent so much time worrying about trivial things, and now he saw the activity for the waste of time it had been. 

Keeping his eyes on the road. Forced to decrease his speed to deal with the rapidly deteriorating road conditions, he hunched over the steering wheel. The wind blasted the side of his car sending him swerving. His heart leapt up to his throat as he fought to keep steady around the curve. Past the safety of an area where he could pull over, moving forward was the only option. To stop in the middle of nowhere with the weather worsening like it was would mean death. Globs of snow gathered on the hood of his car like mini icebergs. Rounding the curve, he turned onto flat land and found himself driving head on into the storm. A world of white greeted him, and he slowed to a crawl, feeling like he was trapped in a snow globe. White out.  

Sweat beaded across his brow, as he searched the blinding atmosphere for a familiar sight. On a normal day, the turn off for the cabin would be about fifteen minutes away. Now, he couldn’t say. Fumbling with this phone he set the coordinates and prayed he still had service. The black No Service would be the epitaph chiseled onto his tombstone. The car swerved, jerking to the left. Backing off the gas, he steered into the erratic movement and managed to straighten his wheels. His throat went dry and his eyes stung as he strained to see through the curtain of white. Blinking, his gaze caught a dark figure speeding toward him. Hitting the brake as the blurry items came into view, he watched two blurry items morph into birds as they came into focus Ravens.

Crack. The distinct splintering of wood echoed over the roaring wind. Brown bark and twisted limbs tumbled down from the left like an angry tree spirit out to get revenge. He’d missed being crushed or having his windshield impaled by mere feet. Odin. You are back online. He compared the robotic voice to that of an angel. Trusting the application, he carefully inched his way down the road and up the drive that lead back to the cabin. The small pine building had never looked so good. A thick coat of snow covered the roof, and hide the foundation. Tall piles of white hide the porch railing and the steps.

Parking, he lifted the emergency break, grabbed his things from the back, and rushed out into the storm before he could change his mind. Nearly blown back by the window, he ducked his head down, clutched the handles of the grocery bag for dear life and placed one foot in front of the other and leaned forward, anchoring himself with his weight.

The wind howled like an angry wolf, tugging at his clothing, and chaffing his skin. The porch provided a slight reprieve as it shielded him from the brunt of the weather. Unlocking the door, he stumbled inside and all but collapsed against the thick wood to close it. Turning the lock, he dropped his things and shrugged out of his coat. Removing his boots, he stripped out of his boots and socks, and hurried to start a fire. The stack of firewood outside matched that inside, flooding him with gratitude. Opening the damper, he felt a cool rush of air. At least I know its not blocked. Using pieces of newspaper in the scraps bin, beside the hearth, he carefully arranged fresh wood in a collapsed tepee manner.

Using the long lighter, he lit a few newspapers between the logs, blowing gently to help the flames catch as necessary and stepped back, recovering the space with a screen. The crackle of wood came just before the heat began to disperse and slowly warm the room. Tap. Tap.  Turning toward the sound he spotted the same ravens at the kitchen window. Slowly approaching, he locked his gaze with the tiny black shiny eyes. Thank you. The bird’s heads bobbed as if acknowledging his thoughts.

Walking to the cabinet he opened the doors and found rows of soup. Even if he lost power, he could use the fire to warm the liquids. Relief flooded him. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head. In the Viking culture, it was his duty to gain knowledge and be the best version of himself he could be.  In order to do that, he had to advantage of this opportunity. Message received loud and clear. Drained of energy, he slowly made his way back to the couch, picked up the phone, and accepted the position. Life was too short to live without risk.

Playing it safe had only kept him a suspended state of sameness. Moving forward, he would be bold and fearless like his ancestors who came before him. Inhaling he sat up straighter. The decision freed him.

***

His phone vibrated in his pocket. Placing the carving back, he stepped around the boxes littering the floor, and grabbed the car keys from the desk and stepped outside. Just on the outskirts from campus, his classes would be a twenty-minute walk, or an even quicker drive. Eager to explore more of the town, he his car behind. Stepping onto the sidewalk he admired the tall trees that lined the sidewalks. Moving from the small residential area, he admired the cobblestone streets, and brick buildings. Students walked in groups walked in clusters, laughing as they enjoyed the warmth of the summer and the lighter load of summer classes.

He smiled, shoving his hands in the pockets of his dark denims. After spending his entire life around family and friends he’d grown up with the anonymity that came with this major relocation giving him a new start, he was able to shed the feelings of failure and frustration back in Oslo. Here he had his dream job. He’d be teaching young, moldable minds about the Norse people and heading up the History department. Tenure, sweet tenure.  There’d be no more yearly job hunt, or uncertain future. He could finally work on the time travel book he’d been outlining for years.

Everywhere he looked he saw life and possibilities. It was one of his favorite parts of working with young adults. They were full of dreams, determination, and untapped potential. That kind of energy was infectious. Bright yellow flowers danced in the slight breeze, spilling a light floral scent his way. Entering the bustling area, he considered, the downtown, he stopped in the bright purple building with multicolored Daises printed on the front. The bell rang above the door.

The floral smell of soaps tickled his nose as he walked by the bath and body display on the circular table.

“Can I help you?” a petite red haired with messy curls piled into a bun and kind brown eyes asked.

“Yes, I’m looking for a thank you present for friends who invited me out tonight.”

“Oh. How thoughtful. Pardon me for asking, but where are you from?” she asked.

“Norway.”

“Wow, long way from home?”

“Yes, I’ll be working on campus this fall.”

“Well congratulations. My name is Anne by the way. I think you can never go wrong with a simple bouquet, but since it’s married couple, I’d suggest baked goods or chocolates. That way they can both enjoy them.”

“I like that ideal.” He nodded his head in agreement.

“Here you’ll find all our edible treats.” Anne lead him over to a shelf against the wall. “If you have any questions, please let me know.”

“I will. Thank you.” In Norway it was considered good manners to thank your hosts with a small gift. Choosing a small variety pack of truffles, he completed his purchases, and followed the phone directions to the two-story dark brick and white building. Books & Brews. The recent bar and grill had a book themed that appealed to teachers and students alike. Entering the loud building he tensed. Americans had completely different concepts of personal space.

They thought nothing of how close they stood, or casual touches that would never happen in Oslo unless someone was a close friend of family. It put him on edge. Scanning the wooden tables, he spotted his colleague Ben and his wife Amanda. A fellow historian who taught American History, the dark-haired brunette man had been chosen to help him acclimate to life in Oxford. He and his bubbly blonde wife had taken the task to heart. Amanda waved cheerfully and he carefully made his way around others to reach them.

“Hey man. We’re glad you could make it out,” Ben stood offering his hand. Shaking it Thordin nodded.

“I appreciate your invitation.” He handed over the small box.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Amanda gushed.

“I wanted to say thank you. Where I come from small tokens like this are the norm.”

“That’s such a lovely tradition. Don’t you think, honey?” Amanda turned to Ben who nodded his head.

“It is. But we’re happy to show you around and get to know you better,” Ben said.

“Likewise.” He sat across from them moving his chair away from the table slightly.

“How are you getting along in the house?” Amanda asked.

“It’s slowly getting unpacked.”

Ben laughed. “That’s man-speak for boxes everywhere.”

Thordin grinned and nodded. “He’s right.”

“Didn’t you say you were interested in Viking cosplay back home?” Amanda asked.

“I did.”

“Well, it’s not the same thing, but we have a Renaissance Faire that’s looking for actors to play Vikings. The fact that you have historically accurate information and clothing will only be to your benefit.”

“What would they have me do?”

“Walk around, talk to people, share historical Viking facts, and as one.”

Interest perked, he sat up straighter. Maybe he could find locals with the same interest as he had.

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