Authors: Jeanne C. Stein
Tags: #Vampires, #Strong; Anna (Fictitious Character), #Contemporary, #General, #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
My folks have decided to sell the house.
I’m still in shock, though I know it’s the right thing to do. This place represents the past. France is their future.
I look around at the three people I love most in the world. They’re here to pack up what they want to take back with them. In the process, Trish gets a peek into the history of her family.
She never knew my brother, the man she thinks is her father. He died before she was born. It’s only her presence that makes what would be an unbearably sad task, going through his things, tolerable. She’s eager to learn everything she can about him and for the first time, Mom and Dad can share their memories without the gray specter of grief casting a pall. They can laugh and remember the good things.
I join in with memories of growing up in the shadow of a brother who always made straight As, who excelled at any sport he took a fancy to, who never caused my folks the slightest bit of anxiety—in other words, the direct opposite of me.
Predictably, my folks deny that I was a problem child. They have to, don’t they? But Trish enjoys the banter and reads between the lines. We loved each other unconditionally, without reservation. She knows this and I see the conflict in her eyes. Sadness because she was denied knowing that kind of happiness in the miserable home she grew up in with her mother, and gratitude that she is at last safe and loved.
I reach over and give her arm a squeeze. If I ever second-guess myself that bringing Trish into our family was a mistake, I’ll remember this moment. The glow on my parents’ faces, the love in Trish’s eyes. She may not be related by blood, but she is related by heart. Nothing else matters.
* * *
IT TAKES THREE DAYS TO SORT, PACK, LABEL AND SHIP almost forty years of memories. I take a few mementos that belonged to my grandparents—the original owners of the property where I now live.
They left the cottage to me and when a spiteful vampire burned it down not long after I was turned, every picture, every keepsake I had was destroyed. It would be nice to replace a few of those items. To restore their presence in real, tangible ways.
Too soon it’s time for my family to leave. Trish’s school holiday is almost over. Mom calls for a donation truck to empty the house. A Realtor is contracted to handle the listing. There are a few items of furniture that Trish may want sometime in the future and they are stored in a rental unit not far from me.
Hand in hand, the four of us walk through the house for the final time. But it’s not with heavy hearts. It’s with eager anticipation for the future. One door closed. Another opened.
Even the rain grants a reprieve that last day. The sun feels hot and bright on my face as I shepherd my family into my car for the drive to the airport.
I should feel sad. Instead, I feel peace. We part with promises to visit again soon. I give Trish an extra hug before watching them disappear into the terminal. She will make the transition so much easier for my parents.
The transition that will come when they must go again from having two children, to having just one.
The knowledge is bittersweet. I’ve given them a niece to take the place of the vampire. My future with my family is now her future.
I wish my heart could accept it as easily as my brain.
ANUARY 1. NEW YEAR’S DAY. WHAT A ROLLER coaster of a holiday season I’ve had. One good thing that came from my family’s surprise visit was that I didn’t have time to think about Culebra. Now that they’re gone, his story keeps intruding into my head.
An assassin. How could that be?
I’m in the office, taking down the lights we’d strung on the deck. Tracey and David are still on vacation. It’s the first break we’ve taken since Tracey came on board. I’m enjoying it. I trust they are, too. And with Stephen due to come home in a few days, I’ll be able to take advantage of the fact that I’ve been pulling office duty and let my partners take over. Stephen and I can spend some quality time together. Some quality bed time.
I get that tickly, tingling feeling that comes when I think about sex with Stephen. He’s human, but I don’t have to hold back with him. He allows me to love him completely, which means I can feed from him if I need or want to. He doesn’t impose limits. Quite a difference from the other human lover I had—Max. I thought he had gotten over our breakup, had gotten past the bitterness. Seeing him at Culebra’s made me realize he hadn’t let go of any of it. He blames me for being what I am.
As if I had a choice.
As if I’d voluntarily choose to give up my family or the possibility of children or the million other simple pleasures I no longer enjoy because I’m vampire.
As if I’d take on the burden of being the Chosen One, always looking over my shoulder, always aware of my role as protector if there were any way to avoid it.
I realize I’m working myself into a fit of righteous anger when the string of lights I’m tugging on breaks with a snap.
I stare at the broken strands.
Max can still push my buttons.
I toss the lights into the trash.
At least he took my mind off Culebra.
* * *
THE OFFICE LOOKS PRETTY GOOD. LAST HOUR I STORED the decorations, did some filing that had piled up, straightened the desk, even swept the floor. A little physical activity is always a good way to clear the mental decks.
It’s late afternoon. The sun is low on the horizon, and I step outside. Clouds are boiling up from the south, which means more rain. The air is heavy with it. Time to get home and settle in with a nice glass of Merlot.
You know the feeling you get when someone is watching you? The itch just out of reach under your skin? I have that feeling now and it stops me cold. My senses spring into hyperdrive. I tilt my face up to sniff the air.
And I catch it.
At first I think I must be imagining it. The scent of fresh washed hair and sunshine. I know who it is before I see that the office door is open and spy the two figures standing there.
For the second time in a week, I get a surprise.
FOUR-YEAR-OLD DARK-HAIRED DERVISH WHIRLS into the room with a whoop and runs into my arms. I scoop him up, twirl him around and hug him until he squeals. His father watches, grinning from the doorway.
“Frey! What are you two doing here?”
John-John, his son, answers before he can. “We’re visiting. I’m going to see Daddy’s home. And we want you to come with us. You will, won’t you?”
I set him down and crouch so we’re eye level. “When did you get here?”
“Just now.” John-John is dancing with excitement. “We came right from the airport. Daddy saw your car so we knew you were here.”
Frey brushes a shock of hair off his son’s forehead. “Easy,
. Give Anna a chance to catch her breath.”
I don’t need to catch my breath. Or at least I wouldn’t need to catch my breath even if I had breath to catch. I’m so happy to see Frey and his son, I jump up, snatch my keys and bag and look past them to the open door. “Do you have a car?”
“We came in a cab,” John-John says. “A yellow one. The driver didn’t look so happy when we made him stop here.”
I nod. The office is only about a five-minute drive from the airport on Pacific Highway. “I’ll bet. Well, I’m glad you stopped. Have you seen the ocean yet?”
He shakes his head. “Only through the plane window. Not close up. Will you show me?”
“I will. We’ll take a ride up the coast before we go home if it’s all right with your dad.”
John-John turns those expressive dark eyes to his father, using his native Navajo.
Frey nods. “Let’s go.”
He holds out his arms to John-John and me and we each take a hand. It’s amazing how natural it feels, the three of us together like this.
Frey’s luggage is piled by the door, a car seat balanced on top. He and John-John grab their suitcases and I take the car seat. We jabber all the way to the parking lot, then John-John and I watch as Frey fumbles the car seat into the back. Finally, we get John-John safely buckled in, Frey takes the passenger seat beside me and we’re off.
I follow Pacific Coast Highway up through the beach communities until it becomes too dark for John-John to see the ocean, and then I turn back toward San Diego, promising more trips during the daytime when we can play near the water. I remember the toys in John-John’s bedroom on the reservation and promise a trip to Legoland, too. John-John fills me in on all he’s done in the last months since I left him and Frey at their home on the reservation in Monument Valley. School, riding with Kayani, hiking with his father.
He seems well-adjusted, happy even though I detect an undercurrent of sadness under the exuberance. He lost his mother while I was there. It was a traumatic time, and it was my fault. I can’t believe they’ve both forgiven me.
While John-John and I chatter all the way to Frey’s condo, Frey is strangely quiet.
Maybe I’ve overestimated Frey’s ability to forgive.
Once at the condo, we get John-John settled in. Frey and I make up a bed for him in the guest room while John-John explores the library. This is Frey’s legacy as a Keeper. John-John will someday inherit his father’s vast treasure trove of books that explore every aspect of the supernatural world. He inherited his father’s ability as a shape-shifter, too, though that won’t manifest itself physically until he’s in puberty.
At least that’s what Frey hopes. John-John already possesses the ability to link psychically with vampires and other shape-shifters. He is years ahead of Frey in developing his abilities, a sense of both pride and concern for Frey.
Frey orders groceries from a nearby store and while we wait for them to be delivered, John-John appears from the bedroom with a small wrapped box. He’s squirming with excitement as he presents it to me.
“Open it, Anna,” he says.
I tear open the paper to find a ring box. I glance at Frey, an eyebrow raised.
John-John plops himself down beside me. “Go on. Go on. Open the box.”
I link an arm around his shoulders and hug him close as I flip open the top.
It is a ring. A beautiful ring.
A band about a half-inch wide of carved turquoise and silver.
John-John takes it out of the box and slips it on my left ring finger.
“This is for protection,” he says. “Turquoise is sacred to the
. It will keep you safe from curse magic.”
My throat is suddenly dry and tight with emotion. I have to clear it to be able to say, “Did you pick it out?”
He shakes his head. “It’s a gift from another friend.”
“Another friend?” Besides the people in this room, the only other person I know on the reservation is Kayani, an officer in the Navajo Police and a close friend of John-John’s deceased mother. I hardly think he’d be sending me a gift. “Who is this friend?”
“Sani. He told me to bring it to you. To help you remember.”
My eyes snap to Frey at the mention of Sani, the Navajo shaman. I hadn’t mentioned what happened last summer between Sani and me to either of them. Frey meets my startled gaze with a smile of mild amusement and nods toward his son.
John-John catches the question in my head. “Oh, we are friends, Sani and me. Since I was little.”
Little? He’s four. The answer makes me smile.
Frey’s looking at me with more exasperation, though, then amusement. “I guess you forgot to tell me that you met the shaman, right?” he asks. “Because I know you would have wanted to tell me something as important as that.”
OHN-JOHN IS ASLEEP. FREY AND I ARE SITTING ON opposite ends of his couch, glasses of wine in our hands, faces toward the flames of a flickering fire. Outside, the rain has finally blown in, gusting against the windows, making the crystal wind chimes on his deck twirl and dance.
I glance at my watch. It’s almost midnight. I should leave.
I don’t want to.
I take a sip of the wine. From the corner of my eye, I catch Frey watching me. I turn my body slightly, toward him. “John-John seems good.”
He doesn’t need elaboration. “He is a remarkable kid. He has bad days, sure, but he takes care of me more than I take care of him.”
Frey lets a long minute stretch between us before he adds, “He really was excited about bringing you that gift from Sani.”
I look down at the ring on my hand. In the firelight, the silver catches and reflects light like tiny rays of sunshine in a mirror. “It’s a beautiful ring.”
“Do you want to tell me how you met Sani? What he said to you?”
“First, let me ask you. Have
He shakes his head.
“Then how does John-John know of him? When do they meet?”
Frey releases a breath. “My son is remarkable in many ways. He and Sani have forged a friendship and I can’t even tell you how. There are some older boys on the reservation that he rides with. Three times he’s come back from those rides with stories about the shaman. I thought he was recounting tales learned from his friends, but when he came back with that ring, I started to suspect something more. The older boys won’t say much about it—just that Sani appears sometimes and talks to them.”
A feeling of warmth spreads over me. John-John couldn’t have a better teacher or protector than Sani. He is watching over him just as he promised.
Frey quirks an eyebrow. “Now it’s your turn. How did you meet him?
did you meet him?”
I settle my head on the back of the couch and stretch my legs. In my head I relive my meetings with the most holy of the Navajo shamans: Sani, who has the power to restore life to the dead. It’s the reason Frey and I traveled to Monument Valley. I wanted to see if he could restore my mortality.
Carefully, I compose my thoughts.
“Sani,” I tell Frey, “helped me see the truth. I am destined to be a protector and my power lies in the melding of two natures—that of human for morality and integrity and that of vampire for strength and cunning. Even when I asked that John-John’s mother be brought back and was willing to trade my life for hers, he refused. Sani told me that I am a warrior, a leader, and my path is set, just as John-John’s mother’s was set. It was her time. It wasn’t mine. Not yet.” I glance self-consciously at Frey. I realize what I said sounded melodramatic and egotistical. “Sani’s words. Not mine.”