Summary: It's summer in the deep south. Bella's an archaeologist working on excavating a cemetery. What happens when Bella and Edward meet over a dead body?
A/N: Well, hello, world of fanfiction. I started writing this story for a contest, Write What You Know, but it just became massive and I didn't get round to finishing it in time for the deadline. I have sort of got a plan for things now, so watch this space!
Thanks a million times to my lovely, lovely beta reader, Sobriquett. She's been very patient with my rebellious punctuation and sentence structure.
NB: The title is shamelessly stolen from Ghost of Corporate Future, a song by Regina Spektor.
This story is AU/Human, and is rated M just in case for later chapters. And just in case it wasn't blatantly obvious, Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, and Edward, and all that. But c'mon, who doesn't want Edward to randomly show up at their work one day?!
1. Hands and Feet
Being outdoors was like being underwater that day. Not that there wasn't plenty of water inside the excavation itself. It had rained the previous night, and the sand sections had slumped into the long, thin backhoe trench. Slime coated the surface of the soil where standing water was absent. There was just enough clay to be a pain in the arse. And it would be, I knew it would be. At least it was Friday - I'd have the weekend to drink water and trek back and forth to the bathroom repeatedly to try and replenish myself from a week's worth of constant, intense sweating. My shoes were already wet from the dew on the grass as I walked into the lot.
My stupid skeleton was stuck in the stupid two-meter high wall of the excavation, and the lower half of the coffin extended outside the property boundary. Further, it was under a tree, and under water. Why Jenna had me digging this, I wasn't entirely sure. We'd left a buffer on the west wall when we'd had this problem before. Who knew with her? She was the most unpredictable person I'd ever worked under.
I tried not to let it bother me, but sometimes this job made me want to scream and cry and throw rocks. It was what I'd chosen; I'd voluntarily elected to become an archaeologist. I had a Masters degree. I was 30 years old, but this work made me feel like I was at least a hundred. Thankful I'd made myself a strong cup of Café Bustelo that morning, I picked my way across the slippery sand to the slumped edge of the trench and scrambled out. I retrieved the key from inside the paperwork box, and walked quickly to the gate and bent down to slide awkwardly between the panels without unlatching the chain. Everything always felt so awkward here.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a conspicuously posh car parked across from the gate, right in front of the purple house. At least they weren't parked in front of the gate. Last person that did that had been towed. The people who lived in the purple house wouldn't be thrilled though. They'd sent their children out to the balcony one morning to tell us not to park in "their" spot. Whatever. I didn't see their name painted on the tarmac, but in the interest of not having a pointless argument with my supervisor I'd avoided parking there since the kids had made their appearance.
I took two long steps away from the gate in the direction of the white cargo van that held our equipment. The van made me think of bad surveillance operations, like in Alias or maybe even The Thomas Crown Affair. Ah well, no well-dressed euro trash for me. This was real life, and very much real archaeology. I smirked slightly as I unlocked the back doors of the van, thinking of whoever had been driving that car stepping out onto a sidewalk that smelled like pee. Nice. People like that needed to be shocked once in a while.
I dug around in the back of the van, ignoring the already stagnant, oven-like air in the interior. The large root clippers, bush axe and my personal machete (which had somehow gotten packed in with the company's stuff) were dropped onto the sidewalk behind as my hands found them. I imagined everything would want sharpening, so when I saw the end of the rusty metal file in corner of the van I tossed that out onto my pile of tools as well.
When I closed the back doors of the van I took a second look at the fancy car. It turned out to be a new silver Volvo with a sunroof. Maybe this car owner was ok, I liked sunroofs. They gave you all the fun of a convertible without the heightened potential for death in the event of an accident. But who really drives brand new cars like that anyway? I was lucky my car even started half the time. Bah, why did I not get a real job, like in advertising or something, instead of chasing this stupid Lara Croft fantasy that turned out to be, at my ripe old age, kind of at the edge of what was physically possible for me?
I gathered up the awkward bundle of tools and shoved everything through the gap under the gate, then slid through myself. By the time I'd got back to my mess of roots, the rest of the crew had found other coffin stains to work on. There were fewer of us than usual, only five today, but that was fine with me. That only meant I'd have fewer interruptions during the day since I was apparently the only person able to handle the photo board or the camera. Viki was working on her own as usual, but she was perfect that way. I had no idea what her issue was with me, but hopefully it wouldn't come up today. She was always so aggressive in conversation and I knew I could be oversensitive but I didn't understand the antagonism.
There was no choice but to get on with it now. I realized I was well on my way to an unsalvageable mood as I walked through the squelching, slick sand with the tools to the edge of the trench where the root bulb of the tree jutted out from the wall. At its base I could see the dark brown outline of the coffin and the discolored fill within it. There were innumerable small roots growing within the dark stain left behind by the now decomposed coffin wood. The sand oozed water where I stood and I sank slightly into the muck. I was probably only at the femurs. There was a long way to go.
I dropped all the tools except the root clippers onto a pile of dirt from a previously excavated grave directly north of where I stood. I hacked off as much root mass as I could and then set the clippers aside, picking up the rounded shovel instead.
I hefted the shovel and brought it down diagonally into the remaining root mass. The force reverberated back into my arms, making me grimace. Stupid wet, bendy roots, I thought to myself. I turned the shovel upside down to stand on its handle, and picked up the file from the pile of tools. The damp from the mud had permeated my shoes and the muddy water was wicking into my socks now. I knew I'd have wet feet all day anyway.
"Sorry guys for the noise," I said, generally. No one looked up.
I pressed the file across the blade of the shovel and was rewarded by a horrible scraping sound and a flurry of metal shavings falling to the mud below. I repeated this with both sides of the blade. It seemed a bit better. I hefted the shovel again and this time when I jabbed at the mass of roots the shovel lodged itself in some part of it. I wasn't sure this was progress, but at least I wasn't giving myself neurological injuries from the vibrations anymore.
I continued to pick ineffectually at the cluster of roots underneath the tree with various tools from my pile. I knew where the head of the coffin was, and I troweled it off to confirm it was indeed in line with the others in the row. The stain was exposed just above the elevation of the water line.
My skin grew clammy with sweat as I worked and little rivers of moisture started running down my body under my clothes. They tickled. I pressed the fabric of my shirt into my chest in a half-hearted attempt to stop the distracting streams of water from coursing over my skin. I knew this tactic would only work for so long, and that eventually my clothing would be saturated. At that point I suspected I'd be tired enough from the physical effort of working that my mind would be preoccupied by keeping my body upright and similar basic motor functions.
"Is there actually a body under there?" said a melodious, unfamiliar voice from behind me. I started, and hit my head on the overhang. I swore and backed out cautiously, turning on my toes in the wet sand.
"What? Yes, of course…" I said, completing the spin on my toes and settling into a crouch. The remainder of my sharp reply froze on my lips when I saw the eyes. Deep green orbs returned my gaze steadily. I was stunned by the color of his eyes. He didn't look away as I stood up from my crouch. My awareness expanded to include the rest of his face and I realized his mouth was curling in what seemed to be a barely restrained grin. I wasn't sure if he was amused by my clumsiness, or the fact that I'd clearly been surprised to find a face like his in a mud pit like this. I collected myself with some effort and mustered a half-hearted smile.
His eyes were not the only thing about him that was stunning. His hair was coppery and, if I was honest, completely crazy. It floated around his skull like the halo on a Byzantine saint. It would only get worse out here in the humidity. He was wearing a worn grey t-shirt that proclaimed Dartmouth in large, collegiate lettering. His trousers were lightweight khakis, appropriate for the weather. They, like the t-shirt, clung to his lean, well-shaped body. I noted his expensive looking hiking boots. They looked like they'd been muddied only recently. At least he wasn't one of those people who showed up in sandals.
My eyes traveled back up his body, lingering a bit too long on his chest and arms. When I reached his face again I saw I'd been less than subtle about my little survey. He was smiling at me fully now.
He started to speak when I heard a voice say "Hey!" rather loudly to the south. I stood and quickly turned toward it. So did Dartmouth. I was met by the sight of Hip, one of the few friends I had on the crew, sliding part way down the slick sand on the edge of the trench. He had the red and white stadia rod in one hand and he flailed slightly, raising his arm in an attempt to maintain his balance. Momentum forced him to take a few small steps at a run once he reached the bottom, almost crashing into the guy with the eyes. Hip turned to face us once he stopped sliding.
"Sorry," said Hip to our companion. "Jenna was talking to me about some stuff, and then I had to hold the pole for the backsight."
"No worries, I was just talking to one of your colleagues." He raised his eyebrows in my direction.
"Oh," Hip said briskly, "this is Bella." He gestured at me. "She's been a project manager here for a while."
"Hi," I said, and stepped forward, holding out my hand. "Bella, and you are?" I found myself much closer to his eyes than I'd intended to be, and I was momentarily lost in them as he took my hand firmly.
"Edward," he said softly. "Nice to meet you." I was momentarily addled, but I gripped his hand steadily in return. The way he was looking at me made me wonder if he'd been the only one getting checked out. I realized there were sand grains all over my hand, and now between our palms. I probably should have dusted my hand off before I took his.
"Sorry about the dirt, it's an occupational hazard," I said meekly as I released his hand.
"Oh, I can imagine." His voice made me think of brushed metal, cool and enveloping. I thought about what other things he might imagine and I had to rein in my thoughts which threatened to spiral into distinctly non-work related territory. I stepped back slightly, wanting to regain at least the semblance of professionalism. On the other hand, how professional could you really be when you were standing in a pit of mud and sweating buckets?
"I see you came prepared." I indicated his recently muddied footwear.
"Yes, Hip warned me what it was like out here."
"Ah, yeah," Hip jumped back into the conversation. "Remember Bella, I told you my buddy from high school was visiting this weekend."
I did recall Hip mentioning something about a friend from up north coming to town. He'd failed to mention that said friend belonged at the top of the 50 Most Beautiful People list.
"Oh right. That's cool that you guys have kept in touch," I said to Edward, trying to embellish the small talk. I hoped he would take the bait and tell me more about himself.
Hip answered instead, "We usually hang out when I'm home for holidays."
I noticed Edward's body was angled towards me.
"Edward's actually the source of my code name," Hip grinned and lifted his fingers to make air quotes.
"Ah, yes. Guilty. You dirty hippie." Edward smiled too, but kept looking at me as he spoke to Hip. I was starting to wonder if I had mud on my face.
"Sorry man, I still think you could have done better," I said to Edward.
"You clearly didn't know him when he had dreads," he replied.
"That's true." I shifted my weight to my other leg and the clammy squelch of the mud brought me back to the fact that I was at work. Horribly and inescapably at work, in a mud hole no less, with a guy standing in front of me who looked like a GQ cover model.
Edward seemed very aware of me for some reason, and the only reasons I could imagine were that he found me bizarre or that he fancied me. The latter seemed as likely as, well, Brad leaving Angelina to run away with me. So I was bizarre and awkward. That wasn't new.
"Well, I should get on with this bastard before I get told off," I added quickly and waved an arm in the direction of the root-y coffin stain. I wondered where Jenna was lurking.
"Yeah, ok," said Hip, hefting the stadia rod. "I guess your body's not ready to be shot in yet." I shook my head.
"Not even close, I'm just at the femurs." I couldn't keep the frustration out of my voice.
"Alright, well, Jenna's waiting so I have to help her shoot in those points from yesterday." Hip looked towards Edward, "Then I'll show you what everyone's working on."
"We could start here," he said in that soft, brushed metal voice again. I smiled internally at his interest. Maybe the hypothetical mud on my face made me look cuter.
"Well, if you look here," I pointed to the barely visible brown line at my feet, "you can see the bottom of a hexagonal coffin stain." Edward nodded. "This is where the head will be, and the person's feet are, wonderfully, underneath this tree and all its roots, and also probably underwater." I rolled my eyes slightly. "The other guys have better examples of coffin stain. If the tree wasn't here this one would look exactly like the others."
I paused, thinking again that I needed to get on with this or I'd never get it done in a day.
"So, this isn't a particularly intact example of what we've been getting out here. It's pretty much crap, actually. Sorry…" I trailed off.
"Don't worry," said Edward, "I won't hold you personally responsible, this time." His eyes were twinkling.
I glanced around at the rest of the crew. "Viki's looks pretty good," I pointed to the tall blonde girl. Hip and Edward turned around to face where I was pointing. Viki's skeleton was not inundated with water, and it didn't have a tree in it. The perfect, hexagonal coffin stain was fully visible. She already had the long bones of her skeleton exposed and was working on the pelvis.
Hip nodded and both he and Edward walked through the wet excavation and over to Viki. I felt both relieved and disappointed that my distractions were gone, or rather, my singular distraction. I opened my right hand and let the trowel drop into the sand, and leaned over to pick up my rounded shovel. I hacked at the wet roots and sand muck for what felt like an age, but finally I started breaking through. I decided to simply undercut the tree, rather than remove the entire dirt overburden and root mass. The roots conveniently held the spit of dirt above the coffin in place.
Hip and Edward remained in the periphery of my awareness as they traversed the open excavation, speaking to Viki, Jenna, and the rest of the crew. I did my best to not think about Edward, but my best wasn't very good. I suspected he'd work with Viki or Hip for the rest of the day, and I'd probably listen but not contribute to whatever conversation they had. Maybe I would get my iPod so I wouldn't have to listen to Viki try and flirt with Edward.
After what seemed like hours of stabbing at the roots, I finally found the eastern extreme of the coffin. Impossibly, it was a distinct dark line in spite of the disturbance from the roots. I stood up for a moment, breathing hard and propping my arm up on the shovel that I'd stuck into the wet ground for support. The digging combined with the increasing heat of the day and unrelenting humidity had left me with a soaking wet shirt. This was an unfortunate and sadly unavoidable situation, given the level of physical activity I had to do and the soaring temperature and humidity. I knew it was pointless to try and wipe the sweat from my face, but I couldn't stand the tickling of the little streams of sweat traveling down my body. I pressed my shirt into my torso to absorb the moisture and stop the distracting sensation.
I took a deep breath in and heaved my balance off of the shovel. I pulled it out of the ground and tossed it onto the pile of tools to exchange it for my trowel. I had just knelt with my shins halfway in a puddle to start more detailed exposure of the skeleton when I heard quiet squelching to my left. I looked sideways to see Edward's boots next to me. I followed his body upwards to his face.
"Hey," he said quietly.
"Hi," I replied, and waited. His eyes were like emeralds, so clear and clean.
"So, can I give you a hand over here?" he asked, gazing down at the very poor example of a coffin stain in front of us. I had no idea why he'd want to look at this disaster when he could work on much nicer example, probably even with some intact remains, over by Viki. This skeleton was turning out to be fairly awful; there was no reason on earth for someone to subject themselves to working on it unless they were forced to.
"Sure, if you don't mind getting really, really muddy and nasty."
He smiled. "Isn't that what this is all about?"
I laughed at that. "Yeah, that's what it's really like, but not many people make the leap from paintbrushes to getting covered in mud in extremely physically challenging environments." Something occurred to me. "Oh, I see why you're over here." I glanced up at the tree. "For the shade?" The leaves far above us were casting mottled shadows over the soggy surface of the excavation.
"Maybe." A little grin lit his face momentarily. "So what can I do?" I stepped across the coffin stain to the pile of tools and picked up some of the smaller ones.
"Well, the overburden is gone for the most part. You can see the outline of the coffin here." I leaned in and brushed my finger over the dark line. "So now we have to find out where the actual bones are within the outline of the coffin. A shovel's too big for that so we use these instead." I pulled a large popsicle stick, a thin bamboo skewer, and a metal leaf trowel from my pile of tools and held them out to him with my free hand.
"If you want to jump in on that side," I said, gesturing to the north side of the east-west oriented coffin. "It's a little bit higher up so it won't be quite so muddy for you."
He shrugged. "Wherever you like's fine, but thanks." Wherever I liked. Hmm. I dropped my own tools to the ground and knelt in the damp mud again, internally groaning at the knowledge that my lower extremities would be soaked for the rest of the day. This brought my focus back to the excavation and I tried to quell the not-safe-for-work commentary that seemed to be running rampant in my head again. I tried not to think in excessively explicit detail about how he'd watched me earlier. Of course, I failed completely.
The minute I thought about the way he looked at me I knew exactly why I was so particularly uncomfortable with it, with what I imagined in his look. I couldn't take it back either now that I'd articulated it to myself, however briefly. I fancied him, liked him, wanted him - whatever you call it. No, no, no. What a disaster. This was so not the time. I was immersed in this eternally uncomfortable situation called my job that made me feel deeply incompetent. I had no confidence here, and I didn't want anyone whose opinion I cared about to see me in this environment. Never mind that he probably had some perfect girlfriend back wherever it was that he'd come from.
Edward crouched on the opposite side of the coffin stain and put the wooden tools to the side and held my spare leaf trowel uncertainly in his right hand.
"So have you done any archaeology before this?" I blurted, trying to corral my thoughts back to the situation at hand.
"No, actually, but Hip tells me all the good stuff." Oh dear.
I started scraping at the long side of the coffin stain with the edge of the thin trowel. I was curious about what Hip would consider 'good archaeology stuff.' Edward held his trowel hesitantly as I spoke.
"By good stuff you mean what exactly?"
He laughed dryly. "Oh, you might know some of these. How about the time when someone got chased up a tree by a hog in the woods? Or when someone on the crew got bitten by a snake and didn't even notice for two days? Or the time when someone got so drunk on the plane back from the Bahamas that…"
"That was me who got bitten," I said, cutting him off.
His eyes widened. "Oh," he said.
"I was a bit ill for a few days, but luckily no appendages fell off or anything," I said, dropping the leaf trowel for a second to wiggle my sandy fingers in the air, showing they were all present.
I noticed he still hadn't moved his trowel to start excavating.
"Here," I said, leaning towards him. "Hold it like this, with your thumb and index finger over the top of the blade." I held the trowel and lifted my hand so he could see the placement of my fingers. He didn't look too sure, so I reached over and moved his fingers around. I felt the wet sand tumbling between my skin and his. He seemed surprised I'd touched him, but he let me adjust his grip on the trowel. "There," I said when I'd arranged his hand the way I wanted. "Now you scrape backwards with the blade at an angle to the surface, shaving off a little bit as you go."
"Umm, thanks," he said quietly, and a bit too intensely I thought. "This dirt is kind of like brown sugar." He was right, actually.
"Yeah, it's even sticky like sugar, because there's just a tiny bit of clay in it too," I said, smiling at him.
I stopped excavating with the trowel once we'd found a long bone, a femur. The bone was spongy from the ground water, and I'd sliced through to the cortex of the femur without intending to. It was normal with soil this wet, I explained when Edward asked why the bone looked like it had an outline.
We worked together for the rest of the morning, and it passed far too quickly in spite of the soaring temperature and humidity. The ambient snippiness and aggression usually present during work had been dispelled by the presence of an outsider it seemed. Everyone was acting a little bit of the part of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. It helped ground us, I thought, we were all so ornery with each other usually. It was nice to have someone keeping us on better behavior.
For his part, Edward didn't seem at all taken aback by the dirtiness or sweatiness and he asked intelligent questions about what we did as we worked. He knelt right in the mud beside me, his new boots covered with slimy sand and dirty water. In a badly lit corner of my mind I wanted to think he noticed my bare stomach when I used the bottom of my t-shirt in a futile effort mop the unrelenting streams of sweat from my face. This was work though, the place I felt least attractive of all, so I also sort of hoped my earlier interpretation of his gaze was wishful thinking. I couldn't be that person at work.
* * *
"So where would you go today, if someone gave you a week, all expenses paid?" I asked Edward suddenly. Before I'd grown up and decided that dating wasn't worth bothering with, this had been a vetting question for boys. I needed to distract myself from my ridiculous whirlwind of absurd thoughts.
"Venice," he answered immediately.
"Really?" I was surprised; surely there were more exotic, amazing places than Western Europe. His hand, holding a wooden popsicle stick now, stilled, and he looked up at me. "Why?"
"Have you been there?" he asked; once more, his voice seemed uncomfortably intense to me.
"No, but my parents went there on their honeymoon." He smiled and his eyes twinkled.
"It is the most romantic place I've ever been to."
"So you're in the mood for romance?" I shot back teasingly. He exhaled through his nose and looked down briefly before meeting my eyes.
"Sure. Aren't you?" he asked slowly and clearly. I stopped myself excavating then, to look back at him with raised eyebrows.
We were sitting in mud, covered with infinitesimally small pieces of human bone and what had been, a hundred years ago, decomposing flesh. Sweat was running into my eyes in spite of my overabundance of eyebrow hair. My soaking wet t-shirt was hanging heavily off the shelf of my breasts to eventually cling strangely to my stomach and trousers as it failed to absorb the further torrents of sweat being expelled from my body. The contrast between my surroundings and the subject of conversation seemed very well articulated at that moment. It was almost laughable.
"I mean, isn't everyone on some level?" he added after a moment. He seemed to be scrambling a little to reorient the conversation. Surely he hadn't meant it as a reference to me. A million crazy scenarios ran through my head but I tried to let them fly by without acknowledgement. I didn't want to remember what a social disaster I was in my current life. I'd been better in other places, but this place and this job made me stumble in so many ways. I didn't want to be the person I was at work for Edward. Which, I tried to not think, meant that he already mattered to me. Not good.
"Umm, I guess," I started, planning to brush the whole romance idea aside and move on.
"Where would you go?" He spoke at the same time. We laughed small laughs.
"Well?" he asked. I quickly took advantage of the chance to move the conversation away from explicit, uncomfortable talk of romance.
"Paris," I said without hesitation.
I answered his question and started working on the mushy, root-ridden skeleton again. The mud squelched under me as I shifted to fold my other leg underneath myself, sitting cross-legged rather than kneeling for now. I didn't care about the mud on the back of my thighs or in my shoes, the grit on my hands, my t-shirt that was too sweaty for any normal situation, or the fact that the tiny roots from the tree had grown clean through the long bones of this poor skeleton and that it was falling apart as we worked. I was caught up in remembering Paris.
"And?" Edward gestured at me to elaborate.
"I went once. I was meeting my parents to go to Normandy. I lived abroad, in England, for a while, so we'd agreed to meet in Paris and take the train together from there." I paused for breath. "I took the Eurostar, but I got there a day early. I was a little preoccupied with essays and had read the wrong day. I had a miniature guidebook and I looked for the cheapest hotel, which was of course miles away from Gare du Nord and as usual I had too many bags. I speak Sesame Street French only."
"Mmm." Edward nodded. He seemed more engaged, than I expected, in both the conversation and the excavation. Interesting. He'd cottoned on quickly to the idea of defining the skeleton as it lay in the ground rather than removing it, in spite of the roots. At the same time he wasn't going slowly either. It seemed like he understood the balance of time versus the respect it was necessary to have when digging up a dead person.
"I expected French people to be mean to me, since I was basically the textbook idiot American wandering around without speaking a lick of French."
I was interrupted by Edward's musical, textured laugh. I stared at him.
"What?" I asked, confused.
"You said lick." The smile had invaded his entire expression. Really? He was that juvenile?
"Is that funny because we're in the Deep South and normal people don't say lick in that context, or is it just because I said lick?" I asked, feigning irritation. He was too pretty to actually be annoyed with.
"Oh, both I think. Sorry." He only sounded a little sorry. "It's interesting that you use slang from Britain and the South."
"Hah. Not many people pick up on my accents." I was surprised. I had lived places with widely varying ways of speaking, but no one had ever brought that fact up in conversation by way of my accent.
"It is kind of a strange combination, but it's not unpleasant." He cleared his throat. "Anyways, please continue."
I huffed and did so. "Where was I? Oh, right. I talked to two or three people on my trek to find this random sketchy hotel, and they all were incredibly kind and helpful; unlike the people who worked at Gare du Nord. No one got mad that I didn't know French, and they tried to help me with my map. It was great. I was afraid people would start throwing freedom fries at me for being a stupid American or something similar." Edward smiled at that, and I continued, barely pausing for breath.
"Anyways, I had these stupid heavy bags, but I recognized that I was out of the touristy part of Paris. There were all these shops with open windows to the street selling fruit and vegetables. I could smell the strawberries from half a block away so I had to get some. They came in this paper bag, and got a little squashed but they were amazing." I felt like this was potentially too personal, but it was far too late I supposed. Still, this was not how I spoke to people at work, especially not with Viki on the crew. Hopefully she wasn't listening.
"So did you find the hotel in the end?" I looked up and found his green eyes looking back. I wasn't sure what to make of this amount of eye contact.
"Of course I did," I answered, slightly miffed that he'd wondered. "It was a lot like the one in The Bourne Identity where Matt Damon cuts Franka Potente's hair. It totally had one of those timers on the hallway light that would cut out after 30 seconds, so you had to run to your room if it was at the end of the hall. That was pretty fun actually."
"Oh yeah, doesn't Bill Bryson have an anecdote about those in Neither Here Nor There?" Ah, he was a consumer of popular literature - excellent.
"That's such a funny book! My mom actually went to Hammerfest, but she didn't see any northern lights."
The conversation gained momentum as we told each other stories about places we'd been. It was lovely. He was lovely. I excavated on autopilot, which was fine because there was nothing I could do to make this skeleton look nice for its photograph. The roots had splintered it, and it was soggy from the water inundation.
I always did the best I could - after all, it had been a person, maybe a really great person, at one time. That always had to be tempered by the constant prodding from Jenna or people who worked indoors. They wanted this done in zero days, but I would have wanted someone to take time with me. I took my time when I could, but that wasn't often.
When we defined the hands, last before the cranium, and they were folded together across the torso.
"They look like they're resting," Edward said quietly.
"Yeah, we've had a few of them like this. It's nice that they look so peaceful. You might feel differently when you get a look at the cranium though. The mandible doesn't stay attached once the soft tissue decays, so it just falls, and it looks like they're screaming."
"Ah, that's not so nice," he agreed.
"I think it's kind of cool, actually, in a way. It's just what happens when everything relaxes. So it's more like they're taking the best nap ever."
"I like that," he said. "I guess you can't be too macabre about it if you have to do this every day."
"Yeah, you sort of make it into your own everyday. This is normal for us, to come out here and see detached mandibles and infant-sized coffins. I mean, I'm not formally trained in osteology, but I've seen enough between this and other cemetery projects that I have a sense of what's underneath skin in a way a lot of people might not. I think it's pretty cool. My friends with kids don't like it when I talk about the infant burials though, but babies died all the time back in the day."
"Hah," Edward laughed. "It's a good thing sex is fun then, for the human race, I mean."
"Yeah," I replied, and pretended to pay attention to excavating while I thought about what that particular activity might be like with him. After a minute I set my popsicle stick aside and heaved myself out of the mud. I needed some air. Nevermind that the air was so heavy with humidity that it felt like being underwater. It was better not to think about that.
"I'm going to go get the paperwork started for this guy, I'll be right back," I said as I looked down at him.
"Mmhmm," he nodded, and I walked to the edge of the trench and climbed out. I shook my head a little as I walked over to the table where the plastic file box holding the empty field forms sat baking in the sun. The morning had been really nice, much nicer than I wanted to think about. Well, it's not like I would ever see him again after today. On the other hand I did very much want to believe that I was, on some level, a cool and interesting person. Maybe that's the best I could do.
I absently pulled forms out of the folder and slid them onto a clipboard from the giant, plastic supply chest. I squinted at the white pages, and clipped a pencil onto the board as well. I knew there was only one way to find out how this would play out. I squared my shoulders and walked back towards the trench. I would try to have enough hope, or maybe it was faith in humanity, to keep speaking to him for the rest of the day.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading to the end! This is my first story ever, so every single review makes my day. If anyone has any questions about any of the archaeology terminology I used please let me know!