Authors: Amy Reece
I shook my head. “No, but I didn’t really look. I was in a hurry. I was running late.”
“I checked with the neighbors. Nobody saw anything.” He sounded frustrated.
“You’ll find out who’s been placing those personal ads, right?” I asked anxiously.
“I’ll try, sweetheart, but I’ll need a warrant. Newspapers are funny about protecting first amendment rights.” Brian didn’t look hopeful.
I wore the boots. Jack whistled when he saw me, twirling me around to get the full view. “Good Lord, Miz Moran. You look incredible!”
It was exactly what I needed after the events of the previous evening: a night out with my boyfriend, just being young and in love. We didn’t do anything fancy or expensive—just dinner and a movie. But we held hands in the car, sat as close together as possible at dinner, snuggled during the movie, and made out in his car before he walked me to my door. It felt like some of our first dates and allowed me to forget, for a little while, the stress and tension I lived under lately.
“Thank you, Jack.”
“For what, querida?” He held me close on my front porch.
“For making me remember it’s not all bad right now.”
“Hey.” He lifted my chin. “I know it’s tough right now. But I’m here, Ally. I’m not going anywhere.” He sighed and pushed my hair behind my ear. “You barely ate anything at dinner.”
I shrugged, not able to meet his gaze. “It’s no big deal. I’m just not hungry.”
“I’m betting you haven’t eaten anything all day, either. Is Mina or Tara home yet?”
“I don’t think so. Tara’s out with Mat and Mina has the late shift again. Why? Do you have something nefarious planned?” I waggled my eyebrows at him.
“Nope.” He took my keys from me and opened the door. “But I’m not going to leave you alone in this house tonight.”
“Hmmph. Well, a girl can dream,” I said as I brushed by him into the house, hurrying to punch the alarm code into the keypad.
“So can a guy, babe. And I do. Frequently.” He sent me to my room to change into my sweats while he made tea and found some crackers and cheese, which he made me eat. He stayed until Tara got home, double-checking all the windows and doors before he left. “Tara, make sure she finishes before she goes to bed, okay?”
“Yes, sir. She will not go to bed until she has licked the last crumb from that plate.” She saluted him, clicking her heels together.
“Smartass,” he muttered as he mussed her hair. “Good night, sweetheart. Call me if you need anything.” He kissed me and left.
“All right, you big baby,” Tara took over the chair Jack had vacated. “You’re on a hunger strike?”
I sighed and pushed the plate of remaining crackers and cheese away. “No. I just don’t have an appetite right now. I’ll get it back tomorrow I’m sure. Don’t fuss, please. Jack’s sweet to worry, but it stresses me out.”
“Hey.” She rubbed my arm. “I’m sorry. I was just teasing. I know this has been hard. Are you doing okay tonight? Anything I can do to help?”
“You know what? Yes. You can talk to me about anything except all this crap going on. Tell me about you and Mat,” I ordered. “How are things with you two?”
“Sounds good. Let’s go curl up on the couch and gossip about our boyfriends.” She grabbed my hand and dragged me over to the couch, where we each settled into a corner and shared the blanket. “It’s going great with Mat. He is by far the best boyfriend I’ve ever had.”
“Why? What is it about him?” I felt like we hadn’t had a chance to really talk for ages because we were so busy with work and school. It was ironic that we lived together and yet had less time than ever to talk. Tara was my best friend and I missed the closeness we used to share. I was seriously sick of all this Seer/Oracle/stalker crap taking over every aspect of my life so much so that I didn’t even pay attention to my best friend. “I’ve missed you, Tara.”
“Oh, sweetie, you really are stressed out, huh? Okay. Wait here.” She leaped off the couch and headed to the kitchen. She returned moments later with two pints of ice cream and two spoons. “This is serious; I had to bring out the big guns. Cherry Garcia or Karamel Sutra?”
“Karamel Sutra.” My appetite returned as we dug in and began to catch up on all the girl talk we had been missing for so long. Mina came in, exhausted from her late shift, but revived somewhat when I retrieved a pint of Chunky Monkey for her. There’s not much that Ben and Jerry can’t solve. “So, Tara was telling me just what it is about Mat that does it for her.”
“It could be the way he fills out his blue jeans,” Mina said softly.
I froze with my spoon halfway to my mouth. Tara choked on her ice cream. “Why, Mina, you sassy minx!” she said. “Have you been scoping out my boyfriend?”
“No, but I’m not blind. He’s gorgeous. So is Jack.”
I smiled in acknowledgment. “But Tara’s dated a lot of gorgeous guys. I want to know what it is about Mat that makes him so special.” I motioned toward her with my spoon. “You’ve been with him longer than any of them. What is it?”
“Hmmm.” She appeared to be thinking deeply. “I guess it’s the way he treats me, like I’m the most important thing in his whole world. And we can talk about anything. We never run out of stuff to talk about.” She looked dreamy.
“Yeah, I’m sure you spend all your time
,” I teased, waggling my eyebrows.
“Hey!” She kicked my foot. “Just like you and Jack, huh? You guys sure do a lot of
As I laughed, I felt the stress melt away. It felt so good that I was determined to stay this way. I made up my mind then and there that I would not be controlled by my circumstances. I was the next Oracle, for God’s sake! It was time to take control of my life.
“What about you, Mina?” Tara asked. “Why don’t you let us find you a nice guy?”
She smiled sadly. “Does Jack have another cousin?”
“Probably,” I said wryly. “But I think you’re already interested in someone else, aren’t you?”
She stared at me for a long moment before dropping her spoon into her half-empty carton and setting it carefully on the coffee table. “I’m very tired. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Mina, I’m sorry,” I called after her retreating figure. She stopped and turned back to look at me.
“What am I missing?” said Tara, her head rotating between Mina and me. She caught on quickly. “Ohhhh. You and Rémy, huh? I should have figured that out much earlier.” She looked irritated with herself. She got up off the couch and walked over to Mina. “Come back and sit down.” She pulled the reluctant girl back and pushed her into the armchair. “I don’t know how you all do it in Ireland, but here in America we talk to our girlfriends about the guys we’re crushing on. That’s what friends are for. Now spill!” She said it in such a funny, mock-threatening way we all laughed.
“Okay,” said Mina. “It’s just that I haven’t had friends in so long I’ve forgotten I don’t have to keep everything in.” I noticed her eyes shining with unshed tears.
“So, you do have a thing for Rémy, don’t you? I kind of inadvertently saw him kiss you last night,” I admitted. “It didn’t look like you were objecting.”
She dropped her head into her hands and shook her head miserably. “No, I wasn’t objecting.”
“Cool. Do you realize all three of us have kissed Rémy?” Tara pointed out.
Mina raised her head quickly. “You too?” she asked Tara. “I knew about Ally, but…”
“Oh, yeah. Rémy and I went out for a few weeks when he first got here. But it was just so he could get close to Ally,” she said nonchalantly.
“I’m sure it was more than that,” said Mina diplomatically.
Tara softened noticeably. “Aww, thanks, Mina. It was fun—I mean, Rémy is a great kisser, and he’s absolutely gorgeous—but it didn’t mean anything. It was just for laughs.”
“So, let me get this straight,” I began. “You like Rémy. Rémy kissed you. It was a great kiss, from what I could tell. So, why are you two giving each other the silent treatment? Why aren’t you together?”
The tears she had been holding in now streaked down her cheeks. “I don’t know! He always pulls away. He won’t talk to me about it. I think it’s the prophecy. He’s afraid of starting something because of that whole ‘heart of the Oracle’ thing.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “He just doesn’t feel the same way I do. It doesn’t matter as much to him. He could have anybody he wants.”
“Oh, Mina. You’re so wrong. Don’t you see? He does feel the same way. In fact, I bet he feels even more than you. He could have anybody, but he wants you. He just doesn’t feel like he can have you. Yet. Be patient, Mina. This can’t last forever. We’ll figure this out. I promise.” I felt like I’d been saying that a lot lately.
“And in the meantime,” Tara piped in, “we can make him aware of what he’s missing by finding you a nice, gorgeous guy to play with.”
Mina looked doubtful, but I felt sure Tara would have someone lined up for Mina in the near future.
My charms crack not, my spirits obey, and time
Goes upright with his carriage.’
I woke the next morning to the tantalizing aroma of coffee wafting into my bedroom. “Tara, you are a lifesaver!” I stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing my eyes. Mina didn’t drink coffee in the morning, so I knew it was Tara.
“Sorry to disappoint, chérie.” Rémy looked up from his iPad. “Nice jammies.”
“God, Rémy!” I ran back to my room to get a robe to cover my tank top and boy shorts. “Remind me again why we gave you a key? Thanks,” I accepted the mug of coffee he handed me.
“So I could make sure you get a proper cup of coffee once in a while?” he said with a smirk.
I sneered, but he did make the best coffee I’d ever had. Damn it. I’d had the nightmare again and was tired and cranky. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your early morning company?”
He ignored me for a moment while he poured another cup, which he handed to Mina as she appeared in the kitchen.
“Oh.” She appeared startled and reached up to smooth her hair. “Thank you, Rémy,” she whispered and sipped the coffee, although she usually drank tea.
“You’re welcome.” He smiled, but she had already turned away. His misery showed for a split second before he schooled his features into their normal superior look. “I talked to my grandparents last night. They’re coming for a visit during the Christmas holidays.”
“Aww, crap.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; I had made known my decision to not take my usual Christmas jaunt to Ireland or France. It was way too much to hope for that the overseas Seers would let it be. “Well, I’m not going to spend my entire winter break training with Kate. I have not spent a Christmas here in two years! I’m going to enjoy this one. I’m going to spend it making cookies, shopping, and taking my little brother to see Santa Claus. I refuse to waste my entire vacation on Seer stuff!”
“Calm down, chérie. I know. I told them not to expect you to spend all your time with them.”
“Ugh! How long will they be here?”
“Probably through New Year’s.”
I grimaced. “And when do they arrive?”
“Great. Perfect. Not even a day after finals week to relax!”
“Consider how I feel,” he said. “They’re staying with me at my apartment.”
“Aww, poor Rémy! This is going to seriously cramp your free-wheeling bachelor lifestyle, huh?” I remarked.
Mina choked on her coffee as she tried not to laugh.
“Hilarious,” he said.
“Speaking of freewheeling bachelor lifestyles…” Tara sailed into the kitchen, fully dressed and looking gorgeous, as usual. Jeez, living with someone as beautiful as her could really give a person a complex. I looked down at my ratty robe and reached a hand up to my snarled hair, thinking maybe I should try a little harder. “Clear your social calendar for tonight, ladies. We are going out! I’ve already talked to Mat, who will make sure Jack’s there, and will bring a friend for Mina.”
It was Rémy’s turn to choke on his coffee.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Rémy. I didn’t know you were here,” Tara lied. “You’re invited too, of course. I’m sure you can find a date.”
“I’m sure I can.” He looked straight at Mina, as if daring her to say something.
She stared back and the tension in the room was palpable. Finally, she squared her shoulders and addressed Tara. “That sounds wonderful. I’m really looking forward to this evening. It will be good to get out and have fun for a change.”
Rémy narrowed his eyes at her and addressed Tara. “I have other plans for tonight. Thanks anyway.” He gathered his iPad and left without another word.
“That was fun,” said Tara.
Mina visibly deflated. “No, it wasn’t. I don’t like being at odds with him.”
“You’ll get used to it. We all do,” I offered.
“And you are not backing out,” Tara declared. “It will be good for him to know you aren’t going to sit around and wait for him forever. Mat’s bringing his friend Alex tonight. He’s a paramedic too.”
“You’re right.” She sat back up, straightening her shoulders and tossing her hair back. “Why shouldn’t I go out and have a good time?”
“That’s the spirit! You deserve to go out with a hot guy, Mina. You’re gorgeous, and if Rémy can’t see what’s right in front of his face, then too bad! Come on, let’s go decide what you’re going to wear tonight. I’m sure I have something you can borrow.”
I watched them head off to Tara’s room, where I’m sure she would find something scandalously slinky for Mina to wear. They were of a similar height and build—tall and slim, not that I’m bitter—so they were able to swap frequently.
Although I had my doubts about it, the triple date turned out to be fun. We all went for dinner at a trendy Asian cafe and then to an 18-and-over nightclub for dancing. Mat and Alex, Mina’s blind date, were both over 21, but Jack wouldn’t turn 21 for a couple of months and Tara and I were both still 18. Alex turned out to be a nice guy and was immediately smitten with Mina. Who wouldn’t be, with her black hair and fair complexion and overall beauty? He was good-looking, as well, and they seemed to hit it off. It looked like Rémy might have some competition.
Jack and I had a good time, although it was slightly out of our comfort zone. We weren’t the club types and usually preferred to spend our time together watching movies, taking long walks with his dog, or simply talking for hours on end. We never ran out of things to talk about and could be perfectly happy spending the evening with an endless pot of coffee and conversation. Anyway, it was good to put the stress and tension of the past months behind me for an evening.
and I accompanied Rémy to the airport to pick up his grandparents the following Saturday. We had discussed how we would try to keep them busy during their stay to minimize the time Kate would certainly want to spend working us to death. I had finished my fall semester finals the afternoon before, and I had no intention of wasting the majority of my Christmas break training. I had never spent a Christmas with Jack and no Oracle on earth would stop me this year.
“Ally, my dear! It is wonderful to see you,” exclaimed Phillipe as Kate fawned and fussed over her grandson. He kissed both my cheeks and then pulled back to look into my eyes. “How are you doing?”
I had always liked Phillipe; he tended to let Kate worry about the Oracle/Seer stuff and spent time talking to me about normal things. I had never known a grandfather, so I was happy to adopt Rémy’s. “I’m good, Phillipe, thanks. I’m glad you’re here.”
Kate swapped places with him, hugged me, and started the inquisition. I sighed inwardly and resigned myself to being immersed in the Seer world, at least for the rest of the afternoon. I smiled at Phillipe and Rémy’s reunion; he was certainly the apple of his grandfather’s eye. I had realized very quickly that Rémy could do no wrong as far as his grandparents were concerned.
We took them out for lunch so we could have a chance to catch up. Rémy chose a steak house that had semi-private booths so our somewhat odd conversation would not be overheard. Phillipe seemed disappointed that he would not be able to try any New Mexican food—Rémy rolled his eyes and muttered he wasn’t missing anything—so I promised him I would take him and Kate to a great Mexican place soon, but we would leave Rémy at home.
“Now, Ally, tell us all about what is happening to you,” Kate commanded as soon as we had placed our orders and the waiter departed. “Rémy has told us about the dreams and the break-in, but I would like to hear it from you.”
So I spent the time until our salads arrived expounding upon the nightmares I had been plagued with all semester and the creepy feeling I was being followed, and how I would occasionally catch a glimpse of a dark figure that no one else seemed to see.
“Oh,” I gasped softly. I remembered something that I had never told anyone else about. “I’m okay,” I reassured the rest of table, “it’s just that I remembered that Michael saw him too. I forgot to tell anyone. I guess the break-in pushed it out of my mind.”
“So, this Michael-person saw who was following you? I can’t believe you never told me!” Rémy hissed, irritated.
“Sorry!” I hissed back. “I’ve had a lot going on. My life hasn’t been a picnic lately, you know!”
“I can’t help you if you keep important things from me,” he replied.
“I didn’t ‘keep’ it from you.” I used air quotes and my snarkiest tone. “I forgot.”
“Mina, how do you put up with these two and their constant harping at each other?” Kate said, exasperated. “Stop it, children!” We ceased. “Now, Ally, in a civilized manner, please tell us about this Michael and what he saw—without any interruptions from you!” She pointed her finger at Rémy, who started to break in.
“Michael is a friend of mine from school. We had a class together this last semester and he sort of, well, attached himself to me.”
“She didn’t tell him to get lost when she had the chance,” Rémy inserted rudely. “What?” he asked when I glared at him. “Can you deny he annoys you more than anything else?”
I shrugged guiltily. “No, I guess not. But he’s a nice guy! I feel bad for him. He’s well, he’s uh—”
“A complete dork?”
“Rémy!” exclaimed Kate.
“No, he’s right.” I put my head in my hands. “Michael is definitely awkward and, yes, he kind of bugs me. But I think he needs friends.”
“That’s kind of you, Ally. Continue, please,” Kate said.
“We meet for coffee before class a couple times a week. A few weeks ago, we were in the SUB—the Student Union Building—going over our
essays when I felt that chill I get. I knew someone was watching me again—that’s how I know. Anyway, I turned around and saw him—the guy. I ran after him, down a hallway. Michael followed me and asked who the guy was. Don’t you see? He actually saw someone! I’m not imagining it!”
“Of course you’re not imagining it, Ally,” Mina said in her quiet, assured way.
“Jack and Tara think I am.”
“No, Ally. They’re just worried about you. Something is happening to you, and they want to help, but they don’t know how,” she said.
“Mina, love, you are wise beyond your years.” Phillipe spoke for the first time since we sat down. “Ally, my dear, something is indeed happening to you. Why do you suppose someone is following you?”
“I have no idea! To drive me crazy?”
He smiled. “That’s probably simply an unfortunate side effect. But why you, of all people? What could someone gain by stalking you?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Stalking is about fear and power. Do you have any jealous ex-boyfriends?” Phillipe asked.
“No. My only ex-boyfriend now has his own boyfriend. They’re very happy. He is definitely not stalking me.” I thought of Trevor and his current boyfriend, Ricky, and had to laugh.
“Then the only other thing I can think of is that this stalker is somehow connected with the Seer world. It is well-known in certain circles that you are the heir-apparent to the Oracle. There are those who would wish to control you.”
“Well, crap. This just keeps getting better and better. And you wonder why I’m not chomping at the bit to take over for Kate?”
“I know, Ally, and I’m sorry.” Kate reached over and touched my hand. “We don’t get to choose. It chooses us.”
The arrival of our entrees saved me from giving my true opinion of this sorry situation.
As we ate and I tried to avert my eyes from the bloody mess of Rémy’s prime rib—he always ordered it rare—Kate questioned me about the details of the break-in. “So, tell me exactly what was taken, Ally? What was disturbed?”
I sighed and pushed my veggie plate away; talking about the break-in always twisted my stomach in knots. I was going to end up with an ulcer if my life didn’t calm down pretty soon. “The only area disturbed was my bedroom. The intruder broke the window to get in. I noticed my top dresser drawer wasn’t closed all the way and I could tell my underwear had been rifled through. A pair was missing.”
Grand-mère,” Rémy interrupted. He leaned toward her and began speaking in rapid French, too rapid for my beginning skills to make sense of. She seemed to argue with him for a moment before giving in to whatever it was he wanted and sat back in her seat.
“Ally, I am sorry. My grandson has reminded me of my table manners and that we should speak of less weighty issues so as not to interfere with our digestion.” She looked meaningfully at the plate I had pushed away.
I looked at Rémy and raised my eyebrows. What an aggravating man! One second he was harassing me, the next he was looking out for me. He winked at me and shoved another disgusting chunk of meat in his mouth.